Big Questions: Will Craig Anderson Continue to Dominate?
No, and that's ok.
Craig Anderson's 2012-13 season was historic; he finished the year with a record-setting .941 save percentage, besting the mark established by former Senators goalie Brian Elliott the previous season (.940 SV%). If not for an unfortunate ankle sprain, which kept Anderson out of 18 games during the regular season, he would have been Ottawa's first Vezina winner.
But it won't last.
Anderson's career save percentage is the more average .915. He's proven he can play at a high level in smaller sample sizes (.941 SV% in 24 games last season; .939 SV% during his 18-game tryout with Ottawa in 2010-11). But in his only two seasons playing full-time minutes, Andy's numbers are more in line with league averages (.917 in 71 games for the Colorado Avalanche in 2009-2010 and .914 in 63 games for the Senators in 2011-2012).
Anderson wasn't the only Senator felled by injury last season. Injuries to key offensive players like Jason Spezza (50 games, back), Milan Michalek (25 games, knee), and Erik Karlsson (31 games, ankle), meant defense play had to carry the load for the Senators. However, the blueline was just as beat up; in addition to Karlsson, the Senators missed the defensive presence of sophomore Jared Cowen (41 games, hip). Consequently, the Sens blueline featured rookies Patrick Wiercioch and Eric Gryba as well as AHL veteran Andre Benoit in addition to aging blueliners Sergei Gonchar and Chris Phillips. Because of these factors, Ottawa made the playoffs on the strength of their goaltending.
In 2012-13, the Senators goaltending was remarkable. Anderson led the league in save percentage and the team finished second best in goals-against. Ottawa had the best penalty-kill in the league, largely on the strength of the team's goaltending. This was fortunate because the team was offensively-challenged. In 2012-13, Ottawa's powerplay was 20th in the league, slipping nine places from the previous season. Last season Ottawa finished 27th in the league in scoring, after finishing 4th overall in 2011-12. It was a difference of more than half a goal per game and the difference was overcome with goaltending. Ottawa gave up 2.88 goals per game in 2011-12 but cut this number to 2.08 in 2012-13, almost a full goal per game and the strong play of Anderson was largely responsible for this difference.
Craig Anderson rescued the team in 2012-13, but he doesn't have to in 2013-14. He just needs to be good - not great - this season for the Sens to challenge for top spot in the division. With a healthy Spezza, Karlsson, and Michalek, as well as the addition of scoring threat Bobby Ryan the Sens power play should be much improved over last season. In addition, the continued development of Kyle Turris into a bona fide number two centre and the presence of free agent acquisition Clarke MacArthur give the Senators two legitimate scoring lines, something the team lacked for most of last season. Norris trophy winner Erik Karlsson will be joined on the first power play unit by fellow young defenseman Patrick Wiercioch. Wiercioch has developed rapidly in the past year and a half and the big, puck moving defenseman may take some around the league by surprise with his offensive production this year. If, and this is an achievable goal, the Senators return to the top-ten league wide in significant offensive categories such as goals for and power play success, Craig Anderson need not repeated his historic success from 2012-13.
This is good; because it's unlikely he can repeat such a high save percentage or continue such a high level of play for a full season. For the Sens to be successful, Anderson just needs to be reliable if the offensive is producing. Perhaps most importantly, another season of reliable goaltending will keep Senators fans, uneasy from years of substandard and disappointing goaltending, onside.