Ultimately Craig’s Kitchen Caper of 2012 will either go down go down as another in a long line of Senators goaltending tragedies, or be classified as “just a flesh wound,” to borrow from Monty Python.
For the steamrolling Senators – they take a four-game winning streak into Saturday’s huge divisional game versus the Boston Bruins – the hope (and prayer?) is that the sliced right pinky finger of starting goaltender of Craig Anderson is something they’ll soon laugh about. You know, with him having returned to action in a couple of weeks, before his replacements can cause too much damage. Playoff dreams intact.
No offence to the backup of the day, Alex Auld, a solid citizen and experienced journeyman, or the potential starter of the future, young Robin Lehner, but there are reasons Anderson has been the most heavily relied upon goaltender in the NHL this season:
A) He can handle the workload (if not a kitchen knife) and,
B) This is one of the many NHL teams that operates with a major dropoff from starter to backup, unlike a St. Louis Blues, for example, with a 1, 1A system via Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott.
Before Friday’s action, Anderson had appeared in more games (56), faced more shots (1692) and made more saves (1544) than any other goalie in the NHL. In short, he was a workhorse, and his recent strong play, coinciding with his team’s post-All Star Game resurgence had improved his statistics considerably, to 29 victories, a 2.85 goals-against average and .913 save percentage. Auld takes a 2-3-2 record in 13 appearances, with a 3.28 goals-against and .883 save percentage into the Bruins game.
On Friday morning, we met a lot of brave faces at Scotiabank Place, the news of Anderson’s Thursday afternoon kitchen mishap having registered – he cut a tendon in his baby finger when his hand slipped while he was stabbing at frozen meat. The good news is that he injured the least useful digit on the goalie’s second most important hand — the one that holds the stick.
The bad news is that the cut was severe enough to require surgery to fix the tendon. The cut has to heal to a degree before Anderson can be capable of putting on a blocker glove and holding a stick. From there, if there are no setbacks, he can return to practice and then to game action.
Senators general manager Bryan Murray was more optimistic off the medical information Friday than he was on Thursday night, when he was told of the freak accident and wondered what hockey god he’d offended this time.
Certainly the die hard members of Sens Army suffered through their – Oh, no, not again – moments when the news break late Thursday afternoon. Just when the Senators finally had their goaltending issues sorted out . . .
It was like this in February of 2006 when the NHL took its break for the Olympic hockey tournament in Turin, Italy. Senators fans know where they were the day they watched Dominik Hasek being helped off the ice with a torn groin/adductor while playing in the Czech Republic’s first game of the tourney, against Germany.
As grim a picture as Hasek presented on the TV screen from Turin, no one imagined that would be Hasek’s final game of the season. Though Hasek eventually returned to practice with the team, the responsibility of an enormously promising Senators season fell into the lap of rookie backup Ray Emery.
Gamely, Emery helped the Senators to a first-round victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning, but Ottawa fell in five games against the Buffalo Sabres that spring. Down the drain went a season in which the Senators had a record of 40-14-5 at the time of Hasek’s injury, second overall in the Eastern Conference and one of the favourites to the reach the Stanley Cup final.
The next year they did reach the final, behind Emery, but in retrospect, their better Cup shot was in 2006, when a fellow by the name of Zdeno Chara was still on the Senators blueline, and a healthy Hasek was between the pipes.
After Emery and Martin Gerber, the Senators actually ventured a season with Auld as the starter, in 2008-09 (he was 16-18-1), then suffered through a hellacious run of injuries with Pascal Leclaire, leaned on Brian Elliott for a time, before trading him away at last year’s trade deadline.
Ironically, Elliott couldn’t stand the heat of a Canadian market, so Murray got him out of the kitchen. Now, the GM would like Anderson and his other players to avoid sharp objects in there.
See, already the organization is already finding the funny bone in this story, a sure sign it just might have avoided disaster for a change.
Perspective is in order. While the Senators aren’t as far along the competition curve as they were in 2006 when Hasek crashed and burned – this is a rebuilding season, lest we forget – expectations were starting to creep upward as Ottawa found itself in a solid playoff position through 60-plus games.
The expectation now is that Anderson returns in time to keep this season a happy surprise.