Ottawa Senators backup goaltender Robin Lehner was outstanding when his team played the Sharks in San Jose back on Oct. 13, stopping 47 shots in a 3-2 loss that could have gone either way.
For that reason, Senators coach Paul MacLean considered going back to the big Swede when the Sharks visit Canadian Tire Centre Sunday evening to close out their season series against Senators.
But with Craig Anderson coming off a strong performance in Friday night’s 2-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks and a manageable schedule ahead, MacLean ultimately decided to go with his No. 1 netminder.
“Craig and Robin have been our best players, our most consistent players since the season started and Craig’s the No. 1 goalie and historically plays games. The schedule right now, with (games) every other day, is conducive to him playing. And when he’s playing well, we’re a hard team to beat.”
While there won’t be a change between the pipes, MacLean will shuffle his defencemen and forwards.
Patrick Wiercioch returns to the lineup after sitting out a couple of contests as a healthy scratch. Eric Gryba will sit in his place.
What happens up front will depend on how everyone’s feeling Sunday. Second-line winger Clarke MacArthur was given a “maintenance day” and didn’t practice Saturday, though MacLean said he “should be OK” to play.
And Jean-Gabriel Pageau, who is also nursing a minor injury and hasn’t played since Oct. 17, is a maybe as well.
Meanwhile, Mika Zibanejad, who just three games ago was still toiling in the minors, was back on the first line at practice Saturday after closing out the Anaheim loss in that spot Friday.
Turns out it isn’t a long way to the top after all.
MacLean wasn’t ready to commit to that trio against the Sharks, but the promotion speaks to how well Zibanejad has played in the two games since returning from AHL Binghamton this week.
He had an assist in Wednesday’s 6-1 shellacking of the Detroit Red Wings and was the only Senator to find the back of the net against the Ducks.
Zibanejad said he needs to keep taking advantage of his speed and firing plenty of shots at the net (he led all Senators with four Friday) to secure his spot in the lineup.
He’s also recommitted to a more physical brand of play, something the team asked of his when it sent him down to Bingo. He had five hits against the Ducks, second only to Jared Cowen.
Zibanejad said he’s not the kind of player who’s going to go out of his way to make a big hit, but added he’s more apt to throw his body around when the opportunity is there now.