The last time a goaltender not named Mike Condon started a game for the Ottawa Senators was December 18 when Andrew Hammond played the first 16 minutes against the New York Islanders before going down with a high ankle sprain that would keep him out a month and a half.
Tonight, Hammond is back in goal. It’s Condon’s first night off after a franchise record 27 straight appearances.
“In some ways, it almost feels like it’s the start all over again,” said Hammond after today’s morning skate. “Where you’re getting your first chance and obviously I’m pretty excited to get back in there.”
The 28-year-old says he found out yesterday morning that he’d be getting the nod when the St. Louis Blues march into town. It’s only his fourth start of the season.
“Everything that’s gone on, and injuries, it’s obviously not unfolded the way you’d hope,” admitted Hammond, who was surrounded by the biggest media scrum of the day. “That’s not part of my focus right now. My focus is tonight. I’ve got an opportunity to have a really god game and that’s what I’m looking forward to do.”
It’s been extremely difficult for Hammond to earn minutes in the crease this year. With the two injuries he’s suffered, his refusal to accept an assignment to Binghamton and the resulting trip through waivers, the bulk of his play has been in practice.
Plain and simple, in the eyes of the organization, Condon has taken the backup job and run with it.
“It’s been really tough lately with what (Condon’s) been doing here, however many games he’s played here in a row,” acknowledged Hammond, who has played in a total of seven professional hockey games this year. “For me, since I’ve come back from this injury, it’s just trying to get myself in a position where I feel like I’m ready to play. Getting in the other night, albeit limited action, was just good to kind of take that edge off.”
It’s been anything but a usual goaltending situation in the nation’s capital during the 2016-17 campaign. A guy on his third team this season plays for two months straight, the original backup that singlehandedly took the team to the 2014-15 postseason is passed on by 29 other teams and the Senators’ top netminder hasn’t had a true timeline for a return since early December. And still doesn’t, really.
But now with three able and willing goaltenders awaiting their own chance, head coach Guy Boucher says it’s all about having them equally prepared for any situation.
“What if Anderson can’t play for the next month?” Boucher rhetorically asked in his game day press conference. “You don’t know. We thought we’d get him a month ago and we’re a month later. We have to play our guys so that we have as many tools sharp in the toolbox.
“I’m certainly not going to look into a crystal ball and hope things work out exactly like I want them to because it would’ve been quite different the last two months. We wouldn’t have had MacArthur out for the entire year, we wouldn’t have had our number one goalie out for two-and-something months.”
For now, the focus is on the Blues. Anderson will almost definitely be playing within the next two weeks, but Hammond will batten down the hatches for now.
Maybe a fresh look between the pipes might even spark the Senators to tidy up in their own end. 14 goals against in the last four games is not exactly ideal for a team that has prided themselves on defensive structure under their new coaching staff.
“Whether it’s (Hammond) or anything else,” said Boucher. “I’ll bring Santa Claus if I have to, whatever we need. We didn’t like our first period last game. I didn’t like our D zone last game, which was uncharacteristic of our team, and we certainly want those details back today.”
In his only two appearances against St. Louis, Hammond is undefeated with a .964 save percentage. A small sample size to say the least, but never a bad thing when you’re seeing your first action in 90 days.
Puck drop is 7:30 p.m. at the Canadian Tire Centre tonight.