The Senators begin their much needed four-game homestand tonight, as they welcome the St. Louis Blues to town, who are coming off a 2-0 win in Philadelphia last night.
Ottawa is anything but themselves as of late. While sporting a lousy 1-2-1 record, the Senators have outshot their opponents in every single one of their last four games. Allowing goals by the fistful, breaking down defensively and being unable to rely on goaltending to keep them in a tough matchup is all new territory for a team that has had so much go their way for the past couple months.
And along with their on ice play, there will be no shortage of storylines in the coming weeks.
With the trade deadline looming, Curtis Lazar is rumoured to be on the chopping block, but that’s not the only piece general manager Pierre Dorion could be looking at moving. Though the Senators sit a rather comfortable second place in the Atlantic Division, Toronto, Boston and Florida are in hot pursuit and a postseason berth is anything but set in stone.
And, of course, the team’s goaltending situation is about to change.
Andy Edging Closer to Comeback
After taking a two-month leave of absence to be with his wife Nicholle during her cancer treatment, Senators goaltender Craig Anderson is back with the team and preparing to return to gameplay.
Though he wasn’t present at practice on Monday - Anderson was helping his family get settled back into their Ottawa home - the Senators are confident their No. 1 will be ready to take the crease awfully soon.
“He’s 100 percent now, in terms of, he doesn’t have any injuries,” said head coach Guy Boucher yesterday afternoon. “He could play a game, it’s just, we’re trying to get him as close to his level as possible before we put him in there. But you could put him in there tomorrow morning and he could play a game, absolutely. So it’s not like you’re trying to get a guy back from an injury where it prevents him from doing what he can. Right now it’s just a question of stamina and timing, but you’d put him in a game now. I mean, if we were playing in a playoffs seventh game now, he’d be in.”
Though the plan is to have him start once he’s ready for game speed, it wouldn’t be the end of the world if Anderson’s first bit of action was coming off the bench in a meaningless contest. In fact, maybe that’s the favourable option.
“When (Anderson is ready), he’ll be in to start,” Boucher stated. “But I think he might be backing up before he starts just to get him in the groove and if it happens that he has to go in the net without having the pressure to start the game and he gets ice time, just like we did with Hammond last game, I think that’s also something we can look at.”
Condon Close to Marathon Finish Line
Now the franchise leader in consecutive appearances after he surpassed Damian Rhode’s previous record of 25 on Saturday against the Buffalo Sabres, it’s likely that Mike Condon will play in his 28th straight game tonight versus the Blues.
In today’s NHL, it’s not often we get to see this kind of streak, but with the league’s newly installed bye week and December and January bringing with them a holiday and an All-Star Break, it was the perfect time for the Senators to helplessly only have one NHL-calibre goaltender to deploy.
“We’ve had a very good schedule since Christmas in terms of games spread out,” Boucher acknowledged. “We had all kinds of breaks, so fatigue level has certainly never been an issue for us.”
But even though he’s had his fair share of down time, Condon’s workload is impressive. Yes, a great deal of players accomplish the feat that is playing 82-plus games straight in one season, but in the goaltending position, it’s a completely different beast.
“You can’t take anything away from him,” said defenseman Marc Methot, sticking up for his teammate. “I know that much, because he’s played incredible for us. To just come in here and have all that pressure on you day-in and day-out, especially for a goaltender, it’s so mental it’s got to be draining because the focus level is a lot different from players.
“You couldn’t have asked for a better guy out there to fill in. His work ethic is fantastic, he’s always prepared and that’s a guy you can rely on. He’s taken charge. Has it been too many games? I can’t speak for Cons, but I know this: it’s not easy.”
Who knows where the Senators would be if their fate was left in the hands of Chris Driedger or Matt O’Connor while Andrew Hammond and Anderson were unable to play. It’s not an absolute given that the team would’ve plummeted down the standings into a prime lottery position, but the likelihood that the Senators would be 10 games above .500 in early February is rather faint.
“The fact that he played all these games and we are where we are certainly attests to his character and his capabilities, being able to do it and keep us afloat, which he has,” said Boucher. “He’s done the job, so that’s extremely positive.”
For Condon and the Senators, Anderson’s imminent return couldn’t come at a better time. As much as Condon deserves credit for the team’s success, the 26-year-old is beginning to slow down in a big way.
The Senators have allowed 14 goals in the last four games and Condon’s save percentage has dipped to a .912. That’s not entirely on the goalie - the Senators have given up a ton of prime scoring chances and hey, that’s just what happens when a backup plays 26 games in a row - but it’s no secret the fanbase will breath a big, built-up sigh of relief when their regular guy returns to his rightful spot.
Dzingel Odd Man Out Against Sabres
Ryan Dzingel found himself in an unfamiliar place on Saturday night when things weren’t going too well for the squad. The speedy winger was dropped to the fourth line midway through the game, but he definitely didn’t take it to heart.
“I don’t think it’s a wake up call,” Dzingel strongly stated. “I think I do the same thing every night. I bring my speed and bring my effort, so if coach wants me down the lineup, that’s fine with me. I’ll play wherever he wants me. I think me, Kells and Laser had some good shifts there, so wherever he wants me I’m going to play. I mean, I played there in the beginning of the year, anywhere he wants me, I’m good with it.”
He has stuck with a particular set of trios for the most part since late December, but Boucher isn’t afraid to bring out the blender from time to time if things aren’t going his way.
“I think we’ve had a lot of success with the lines that we’ve used,” said Boucher. “But when there’s nothing going, we weren’t very good in the first period, so then I shuffle things around and our second period was really good until they scored that goal and we kind of deflated.”
Though the line of Dzingel, Kyle Turris and Bobby Ryan is always at the top of the whiteboard, the three have struggled largely for consistency. At times, the mix of speed, shot and skill seems to be a killer combination, but their overall play at both ends hasn’t been up to par as of late.
“It’s been frustrating not helping him put up the numbers he wants and Bobby put up the numbers they want,” Dzingel admitted. “I love being on that line and I’m looking forward to the next 30 (games). Hopefully we can tear it up together.”