Craig Anderson has been the best goaltender in Senators franchise history, and I think that’s a pretty common opinion amongst Senators fans. Sure, Dominik Hasek was a better goalie in his career, but he only played 43 games in Ottawa. Most people know that Anderson has been great ever since he came to town in 2011, but it seems like for a few seasons everyone has been expecting an inevitable drop in production.
The thing is, that still hasn’t happened yet.
We know that typical goalies do not age well compared to other positions, but Anderson may not be the typical goalie. He’s 35 years of age right now, and it doesn’t look like he’s showing any signs of slowing down. Will he be this same goalie in say three years from now? Probably not, but in the immediate future, it looks like we can bank on him playing well.
It’s hard to overstate the significance Anderson brings to the Senators, because I think analysts of the game are just starting to realize the importance that elite goaltending can bring. Case in point, the Montreal Canadiens: Montreal does not have an amazing skater group and sometimes look hapless, but with Carey Price they can beat just about anyone.
The same thing is happening with Henrik Lundqvist and the New York Rangers, as their defense corps is one of the worst in the league, but Lundqvist is always there to bail them out.
The point is, with Anderson on top of his game, Ottawa can perform better than expected. Even with forward lines that look quite thin and a defense corps that is average at best, Ottawa can win most nights if Anderson is playing at an elite level. It isn’t a great plan to rely on, but it’s not impossible to see Ottawa’s great goaltending carry them to a playoff spot, much like it did in 2013.
So how good has he been? Overall in his career with the Senators, he has a very impressive .920 SV%, which ranks tied for 9th in the league over that span (the link does not show his half-season in Ottawa in 2010-11). This season though, he has been just as good as he was in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. Of course it has been 12 games, but a .934 SV% is phenomenal.
If you want to look at 5v5 SV% which is typically a good indicator of goalie talent, he ranks 8th in the league this year at 94.14%. 8th may not seem amazing, but there have been a number of great goaltending performances so far. That same 94.14% would have been 1st in the league last year. So essentially he has been playing at an elite level, and is giving the Senators a chance to win each night.
It’s easy to take for granted how well Anderson has performed during his tenure in Ottawa, but let’s look at two cumulative stats to show his worth:
It’s not as if he’s playing well in 12 games but wasn’t playing well in the past. His 5v5 SV% is actually 10th over the course of the last three seasons, just barely behind 2016 Vezina winner Braden Holtby. Not only have his numbers been good on the surface, added context makes it even more impressive.
Remember that I mentioned earlier that he is 35 years old? Yeah, it isn’t very typical for a starter to be that old. Despite that, he’s been one of the better goalies in the league for five years now. One stat I found was especially illuminating:
Using Hockey Reference’s Play Index, I searched for goalies age 33 and over since 2000 and sorted them by SV%. There have been 31 goalies who fit that description, and Anderson ranks third in SV% at .920. He’s ahead of Patrick Roy, Roberto Luongo, Dominik Hasek, Martin Brodeur, and countless other great goalies:
There is a quick drop-off after the first few goalies, and that’s because it’s so hard to stop pucks at an older age. Anderson of course has not played late into his 30’s just yet, but this is impressive nonetheless. In fact, even if you restrict the results to goalies in their age 33-35 seasons, Anderson still ranks fourth.
Even without realizing that he is old for a goalie, his results have been great. Furthermore, it’s incredible that since Nicholle Anderson’s cancer diagnosis he has played in seven games and allowed a mere eleven goals. He certainly has some extra motivation right now, and it’s incredible to see what one can do while going through incredibly tough times. I wouldn’t underestimate a man on a mission, and it seems like that’s what he is right now.
No matter how you slice it, Anderson has been a damn good goalie as a Senator, especially this season. He’s defying the odds by playing so well at an age when goalies typically regress hard. If Ottawa has any hopes of being a good team this year, they need Anderson to keep this up. And honestly, there’s no reason to believe he can’t continue to play well.
A .934 SV% will not hold, but something above .920 this season is realistic. Although Ottawa may not have a great group of skaters, Anderson has made them look better. We’ve been saying for a while now that he will get worse at some point, but with how well he’s playing right now, I wouldn’t bet against him just yet.
Anderson will not go gentle into that good night, and that is exactly what the Senators need.