Is the Ottawa Senators' greatest strength in the net?
The Ottawa Senators have plenty of question marks on defence and nearly as many at forward, but there's one position where they're rock solid: In goal.
The biggest question marks on this year's Ottawa Senators' roster are on the blue line, but there's at least one thing that'll help compensate for that at least a little bit: The team's strength in nets.
At the front of the pack is Craig Anderson, currently penciled in as the team's starter. It's obviously questionable how ready he'll be considering his inaction through the lockout, but he remains Ottawa's most proven NHL goaltender. Until something changes, he's the number one, and he was recently ranked by ESPN as the 18th-best goaltender in the league. That's not exactly a glowing recommendation, but the list is a little bit... weird.
That ESPN list also includes Ottawa's backup, though: Ben Bishop, perhaps ahead of Robin Lehner on the depth chart due to technicality alone, comes out as the 37th-best goaltender in the NHL. He had outstanding numbers with Peoria of the AHL last season and his stats with Binghamton are even better, so expectations are fairly high for him despite his inexperience at the NHL level.
Then there's Lehner himself, who will have a very good chance to play in the NHL here and there this season since he's outplayed Bishop in Binghamton so far and is among the AHL's top goaltenders. Lehner came into this season with a mission, and accepted the task of going head-to-head with Bishop and Anderson in the most positive way possible: As a challenge he'll have to work his ass off to overcome. By all indications, he's doing so.
Ottawa's goaltending picture is more than that, though, when considering its importance during a lockout-shortened season. It will be very important to come out of the gate strong, and both Lehner and Bishop have been playing for months already so should be in mid-season form. (This is especially evident for Bishop, whose first few AHL games this season were abysmal while he was getting up to speed. Since then, his play has been outstanding.) Anderson is a different story, but if he comes out flat the Senators can very quickly change gears and go with plan B or even C without missing a beat.
The fact that both Lehner and Bishop have been seeing a lot of rubber with Binghamton bodes well, since Ottawa's blue line is far from impenetrable.
When also considering the fact that the shortened season will also bring with it a compressed schedule, it's vital for teams to have a very solid 1-2 punch in nets. While the Losa Angeles Kings (with Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier), the Vancouver Canucks (as long as they hold onto Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider), and the Boston Bruins (assuming Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin meet expectations) have impressive duos in the crease, few other teams have back-up options as attractive as the Ottawa Senators do. That flexibility is very valuable right now.
And it might just be the biggest factor in getting the Senators into the playoffs.