Ottawa Senators goaltenders delivering stunning numbers

Supported by spectacular goaltending since October, Ottawa Senators rookie defenceman Patrick Wiercioch knows he’s living a charmed life.

Ben Bishop of the Ottawa Senators stretches, during a team practice held at the Bell Sensplex, in Ottawa, ON, on February 27, 2013. The Ottawa Senators will be embarking on a 5 game road trip. (For SPRT Section) (Photo by Jana Chytilova)

BOSTON – Supported by spectacular goaltending since October, Ottawa Senators rookie defenceman Patrick Wiercioch knows he’s living a charmed life.

For the first three months of the season, Wiercioch had the best seat in the house, watching as Robin Lehner and Ben Bishop stole game after game for the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League. Now, during the first six weeks of the National Hockey League season, he has been a first-hand witness as Craig Anderson and Bishop have carried the Ottawa Senators on their backs.

It’s becoming so familiar, Wiercioch simply shrugged his shoulders after Bishop stopped 44 shots in regulation and four of five in the shootout during Monday’s 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens.

“We joked about that, that we’re bringing the Binghamton style up here, 45 shots against and somehow we pull out wins,” Wiercioch said before the Senators boarded a flight for Thursday’s game against the Boston Bruins. “Right from the start of the year, both Bishop and Robin were amazing. We had a really good win streak going there. It wouldn’t have been possible without those two. Coming up here, (Anderson) has been nothing but spectacular. And then Bishop coming in and replacing him (since Anderson suffered a sprained ankle on Feb. 22) so easily in the past two games. That has been huge for us.”

It may come as some surprise to Senators fans, but ugly goals are still happening around the NHL – even from some of the best in the business. Montreal’s Carey Price yielded a long range, bad angle goal to the Senators’ David Dziurzynski on Monday. On Tuesday, Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers mishandled a routine third period wrist shot from Evander Kane, the difference in the Winnipeg Jets’ 4-3 victory.

Fortunately for the Senators, they haven’t tasted that feeling often through 20 games. In fact, they haven’t seen many pucks go in the net at all.

While there is never one single reason for a team’s success, it’s not all that complicated to explain the Senators 12-6-2 record and the fact they’re bringing a five-game winning streak into Thursday’s game here, despite an injury-depleted lineup.

It’s about goaltending, plain and simple.

The statistics are startling. Before Wednesday’s games, the Senators had allowed only 1.80 goals against per game, second in the league behind the Chicago Blackhawks (1.79), who have yet to lose in regulation. The Senators, meanwhile, ranked 27th in the league in shots allowed per game (32.2), ahead of only the Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers and Buffalo Sabres, teams currently out of a playoff spot. Buffalo is the only team that had faced more shots.

Anderson ranks first in the NHL in goals against average (1.49) and save percentage (.953). Bishop ranks third in save percentage (.935) and has an .867 success rate in shootouts, stopping 13 of 15 shots.

For all that, it’s not a slam dunk that Bishop gets the start against the Bruins Thursday. In an intriguing twist, Lehner, recalled from Binghamton due to Anderson’s injury, posted his first career shutout in Boston on Feb. 28, 2011. Thursday is the one-year anniversary of that 32-save, 1-0 victory.

“We try to factor in everything,” said Senators coach Paul MacLean, well aware of the significance of the date. “There are still some more conversations we have to have before we make a final decision. We have three games in four days, so we want to make sure we organize it to make sure we do the right thing.”

Bishop isn’t getting ahead of himself or talking as big as his 6-7, 214-pound frame. He recognizes that the Bruins, who boast an impressive 12-2-2 record, present a major challenge.

“They’re a great team and it’s going to be a tough test for us,” he said.

Lehner, meanwhile, understands he needs to be patient and the fact that you don’t easily mess with success.

“It’s a fortunate situation for the organization,” said Lehner, an AHL All-Star. “Craig has been unbelievable. Bishop has played a couple of games now and he been unbelievable and I’m happy for them. It’s good for them. It’s good for the team and the whole organization. I just work as hard as I can and if I get a chance, try to play (well) too. It has been going very, very well in the American Hockey League. I think I have shown what I can do and if the chance comes, I welcome it. They’re playing really well right now, so why not try to keep it rolling?”

Regardless of who is in net, the confidence of the players in front of them is growing by the game.

“Everybody plays more at ease when you have a big goaltender that is doing his job,” said defenceman Marc Methot. “Guys aren’t panicking and running around as much. And if makes our play a lot easier in the defensive zone. It allows us to have more energy going up the ice.”

Winger Colin Greening says having a hot goaltender changes the mindset of players.

“You’re more willing to make that 50-50 play,” he said. “In the back of your mind, you’re thinking (the pass) might get picked off, but it also might be a good play and you know you have a goaltender who can bail you out.”

While the Senators are struggling to find offence, they also recognize that they don’t have to force plays because the netminding has been so solid.

“You’re not as jittery with the puck,” said Wiercioch. “You almost feel like even if you do screw up, it’s going to be nothing more than a rebound and you’ll get a chance to make the right play the next time. There’s a lot less stress when you know you don’t have to score three or four goals a night.”

 

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