To coincide with Tuesday’s birthday of Charles Dickens, this is A Tale of Two Cities, or at least, two goaltending situations.
At one end, there was Ottawa Senators workhorse Craig Anderson, who has played in more games (51) and faced more shots (1,500-plus) than any other goalie in the NHL this season.
At the other end was Brian Elliott, the former Senator swapped for Anderson last February, now part of a St. Louis Blues tandem that shares the crease almost equally. Elliott has appeared in 24 games, Jaroslav Halak in 29.
Mr. Solo versus the tag-team wrestlers, except that Anderson’s hockey marathon came to an abrupt halt early in the first period, when the Blues put a couple of pucks past him on fourth shots. It was Anderson’s 18th consecutive start and one of his shortest, with just 3:49 played, the precise time of David Perron’s goal for St. Louis. Anderson’s shortest appearance came on Nov. 11, when he was pulled after two minutes.
Well, the man could use a break, and Alex Auld, who had seen all of 20 minutes playing time in the calendar year, needed to shake a bit of rust off the goalie blades.
Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock prefers the two-man system, partly because he has two effective stoppers and partly because of how the game has changed.
“It’s a little bit what we have (in personnel) but I think, in the league now, the goalies see more scoring chances than they’ve ever seen,” Hitchcock says. “They see more quality scoring chances, more odd man rushes, more bang-bang plays…”
Anderson can concur. Bang-bang and his team was down a pair.
According to Hitch, who has always had a keen sense of hockey trends and coaching techniques, the speed of today’s game combined with the youth on defence has made goaltending “really mentally challenging” and, therefore, tougher than ever for one goalie to shoulder the burden.
Goaltending deployment is topical around here with Anderson feeling the brunt of a Senators slump, getting precious little help from a team that has looked tired since a long western swing and then the All-Star Game events here.
With Auld producing just one victory while appearing in parts of 11 games the entire season, Anderson has been lugging the ball, like a one-man backfield. Most nights he has given the Senators a chance to win, but he is going to need some rest eventually.
While there is plenty of chatter about prospect Robin Lehner in Binghamton, the truth is he hasn’t played all that well and Senators gneral manager Bryan Murray said Tuesday he’d like to see Lehner get more starts … at the AHL level.
If Auld — or someone — could chip in with a few quality starts, it could keep Anderson fresher down the stretch.
“You have to have a high level of energy to play this position, and I think rest and energy go hand in hand,” Hitchcock says. “Some guys can play a lot and not let it affect them, but, from our standpoint, Jaro (Halak) is not a big guy, and our view is he needs rest at times.”
Hitchcock feels that Elliott and Halak complement each other perfectly.
“Brian’s work ethic at practice has rubbed off on Jaro, and Jaro’s calmness and demeanor on the day of the game has rubbed off on Brian,” Hitchcock says. “I think it makes for a good pair.”
Hitchcock was convinced Elliott got rid of his “nervous energy” about returning to Ottawa with his visit during the All Star Weekend.
PING PONG, ANYONE?
Hitchcock, an Edmonton native who has coached a Stanley Cup champion in Dallas (1999) and been an assistant for two Canadian Olympic hockey championships, 2002 and 2010, has a great mind for the game and doesn’t mind sharing his thoughts on same.
In Hitch’s view, NHL hockey is almost spinning out of control.
“We tried to still play possession hockey after the lockout, and now it’s like race-a-rrific hockey,” Hitchcock says. “Bang it up the ice, chip it in, forecheck like hell. Bang it down the ice.
“I was telling the coaches (Monday) night: It used to be tennis when we came out of the lockout, now it’s like ping-pong. The game is so fast now.”
In two of their games since the all-star break, the Blues have had one stretch of eight minutes 30 seconds without a whistle and another 5:35 with no whistle. That’s a lot of continuous chip and chase.
“You never saw that before,” Hitchcock says. “It’s unbelievable how fast the game is now, but it’s fast without puck possession.
“So it’s like forecheck, forecheck, forecheck. It’s really different. Sometimes it feels like it’s organized chaos out there, to be honest with you. With no red line and with teams playing three forwards high in the neutral zone, you’re not going to get a puck possession game. You’re just going to have to deal with it and get used to it.”