1. Ian Mendes made an interesting point on Monday that got a bit lost in the trade deadline noise:
Why don't the St. Louis Blues get more criticism for trading Ben Bishop at the deadline in 2012?— Ian Mendes (@ian_mendes) March 2, 2015
As much as it's fun to constantly bring up the "Bishop for Conacher and a pick" narrative it's been rehashed and examined so many times that no one is changing their mind on the issue. But Ian's right to ask why St. Louis doesn't take more heat for trading Bishop to Ottawa in the first place.
Despite some critical acclaim, awards like the Jennings, All-Star selections, and a great defensive system, goaltending has been an issue in St. Louis for a few seasons. In 2011-12 Bishop was traded to the Sens because his way to the NHL was blocked by a record-breaking season from tandem Brian Elliott (38 GP, 94.0 SV %) and Jaroslav Halak (46 GP, 92.6 SV %). The Blues were set with their tandem and moved a prospect for an asset (draft pick) despite the fact that Bishop was the hottest goalie in the AHL with a 92.8 SV% and six shutouts over 38 games at the time. Things weren't so great in the lockout-shortened season in 2012-2013 when St. Louis used a system of three goalies: Elliott (24 GP, 90.7 SV %), Jake Allen (15 GP, 90.5 SV %), and Halak (16 GP, 89.9 SV %). Obviously these are small samples, but they chose to stay the course with Elliott and Halak and earmarked Allen as the goalie of the future.
Despite being one of the NHL's most dominant regular season teams over that stretch, successive playoff failures caused St. Louis to shake things up. At last year's deadline, the Blues packaged Halak and Chris Stewart, a prospect, and a first-round pick in 2015 to Buffalo for Ryan Miller and Steve Ott. Halak played 40 games for St. Louis with a 91.7 SV%. He was part of a true 1a/1b combo because Ken Hitchcock never had the confidence to run with either Halak or Elliott as a true number one. Miller disappointed in St. Louis, playing 19 games in the regular season with a 90.3 SV% but was even more disappointing in the 2014 playoffs. Despite giving up so much for him, the Blues decline to re-sign Miller, choosing instead to run with Elliott and goalie of the future Allen. While Elliott's numbers this season are good (34 GP, 92.1 SV %) he's struggled a bit of late and Allen, who's a year older than Lehner, has been disappointing (29 GP, 90.3 SV %). When Elliott went down for three weeks in the fall, the Blues were forced to sign the ghost of Martin Brodeur. Recently, the Blues even had a goalie controversy as both Elliott and Allen were pulled himself/was pulled in the same game and heated words were exchanged. St. Louis is a team that's been waiting to take the next step for a few seasons now and has in some ways been held back by their goaltending in the playoffs.
All of this is to say, goaltending is a tough position to evaluate. While Lehner and Allen still have time to turn into the goalies their teams hope they'll be, I bet there have been times over the past few seasons Doug Armstrong has wished for a do-over.
2. Speaking of goalies, Ottawa had a bit of a goalie controversy on Wednesday when coach Dave Cameron announced Craig Anderson would make his long-awaited return to the crease on the second night of a back-to-back on the road. Word quickly came out that Andy wasn't ready to go after all and Andrew Hammond would be back between the pipes. It seemed like a simple misunderstanding: the coach didn't check in with the trainer/player and made the no-brainer decision to switch it up on a back-to-back. Maybe the player wasn't feeling as good Wednesday morning as he had Tuesday night. In all likelihood, it was something minor, not a conspiracy.
Holy flip flop Batman! Craig Anderson WON'T start tonight(his hand is not ready) The Hamburglar goes in for a 7th straight time. #cbcott— Dan Séguin (@SeguinSports) March 4, 2015
But in some corners of the local media and fan base it was seen as an example of Andy quitting on his teammates and was compared to Hasek's infamous stance in the 2006 playoffs. Some of this dissent is probably manufactured to have something different to write about during the best stretch of the season. However, I wonder if some of it is just pure frustration over not knowing what's going on. Andy's injuries have formed a pattern: day-to-day with little information actually becomes weeks or months that leaves fans frustrated and unsure what to trust. Add to that Chris Phillips' "injury," Zack Smith's wrist (which was long term then season ending but maybe not), and Chris Neil's knee injury earlier this winter and both fans and media members aren't quite sure what to make of the injury situation without a clearer information. Head injuries to Lehner and Clarke MacArthur aside (concussions are notoriously difficult to project), I'd like a clearer idea of where we stand with injuries, especially when it concerns Craig Anderson. I'm not holding my breath though. This is standard operating procedure for the Sens and other teams across the league.
3. I love the new third line. Jean-Gabriel Pageau between Erik Condra and Curtis Lazar has been pretty effective during this streak and a much needed improvement for Ottawa's bottom six. They're a much faster third line than we've seen earlier in the year and they play the sort of up-tempo game that Cameron seems to favour. They also bring that physical component that many still want to see in a third or fourth line. I know hits aren't the most reliable stat, but Lazar is third on the team with 113 in only 47 games and Pageau is fourth with 99 in just 30 games. More importantly, that physicality doesn't come at the expense of defensive responsibility. If the slightly smallish Pageau and Lazar are bringing the body, than Condra is bringing the brains. Inserting an intelligent player like this back into the line-up was one of Cameron's better moves. Pairing him with youngsters like Pageau and Lazar helps shelter them a little and helps an already defensively-reliable line play that much more responsibly. I'd like to see this trio stick together for a while longer.
4. What will we see from the Bingo call-ups over the course of the next month? I think it's fair to say Shane Prince impressed in his brief stint with the big club and that Matt Puempel didn't make the most of the recent road trip (but he did get to go to California and that's a perk). Murray has already mentioned that Buddy Robinson would get a chance with the big club once they arrived back home in Ottawa. While it will be interesting to see how the big, 6'5" Robinson plays at the NHL level, one has to wonder if Ottawa's recent winning streak and subsequent late playoff push will impact call-ups in March. Will Murray weigh prospects gaining valuable NHL experience over an optimal line-up? If they choose to dress the best 20 players they can, is that good news for Shane Prince?
One player who might throw a wrench in these plans in Clarke MacArthur. Currently suffering from a concussion, the team seems to be taking the right approach and giving him all the time he needs to recover. However, adding a top-6 forward back into the line-up would certainly help that playoff push. But who would come out for MacArthur? One of Prince, Puempel, Robinson or someone else? Perhaps someone like Colin Greening. This is one scenario where Greening might have the upper hand though. If you can say one thing about him, he's at least acquired a bunch of NHL experience.
5. And now for a bit of fun. Andrew Hammond is on one of the best runs for a Sens goalie ever. Part of the fun has been his Hamburgler nickname, taken from his mask design. However, in terms of all time Sens goalie mask designs, his design falls just a bit short. My favourite Sens goalie masks of all time:
1. Patrick Lalime's Marvin the Martian mask
2. Andrew Hammond's Hamburgler mask
3. Craig Anderson's 1st Heritage mask
4. Don Beaupre's Peace Tower mask
5. Martin Gerber's Darth Gerber mask