Three’s Company in the Ottawa Senators net

Apparently, nobody bothered to tell the Ottawa Senators that the three goaltending system isn’t supposed to work.

Apparently, nobody bothered to tell the Ottawa Senators that the three goaltending system isn’t supposed to work.

Here we are, 9 ½ weeks into the NHL season and the Senators’ three-headed monster (at least in the minds of frustrated opposition shooters) is leading the league in goals against average, save percentage and stolen victories.

Remarkably, the Senators have also allowed more shots per game, 33.2, than any other team in the NHL.

After the latest act of thievery — Ben Bishop’s 32 stops in regulation and overtime, followed by a 3-for-4 performance in the shootout during Monday’s 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils – the Senators lead the league with a 2.06 goals against average. The Boston Bruins are second at 2.10, followed by the Chicago Blackhawks at 2.19.

If you’re looking for a single reason why the Senators owned a 10-point edge on the ninth-placed Carolina Hurricanes before Tuesday’s game, look no further than the guys between the posts.

Accordingly, Bishop, Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner could establish their own form of history by sharing the spotlight of winning the Williams Jennings Trophy. The Jennings is annually given to the team with the lowest goals against average, but in the 30 years the trophy has been awarded, a trio of goaltenders from the same team has never shared the honour.

In a typical year, all goaltenders who have played at least 25 games share the trophy, as was the case last season when the St. Louis Blues tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott won. Due to lockout shortened 48-game season, however, those numbers will be pro-rated for the 2013 season. To qualify, every goaltender will have to play at least 15 games, according to an NHL spokesperson.

At this point, the injured Anderson has played in 15 games, Bishop in 11 and Lehner in eight. The Senators have 15 games remaining. If Anderson returns soon from his sprained ankle, Lehner and/or Bishop might fall just short of the cut-off line.

That, however, doesn’t really alter the story of how those two have stepped in to replace Anderson. Anderson was on target to win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender and was a leading candidate to win the Hart Trophy as league MVP before suffering his injury on Feb. 21, but Bishop and Lehner have also been outstanding.

“Well, (Senators goalie coach Rick Wamsley) was giving us crap, saying he won it once (in 1982),” Bishop said, with a laugh, when the idea of winning the Williams Jennings Trophy was brought up the other day. “But, absolutely, it’s a team thing.”

Lehner echoed those sentiments.

“I’ve played eight games, hopefully I get a few more, but it’s a team number first and I don’t think of it as a goalie number,” he said. “We’ve been playing very well defensively, blocking a lot of shots, sacrificing ourselves out there and working hard. If anything, it’s a good reward for the team.”

With so much solid goaltending in the dressing room, perhaps it’s necessary to eat humble pie.

Coach Paul MacLean has shown no hesitation in using any of the three. On Monday, he said that he would be comfortable starting any of the three in the playoffs. All the success also means the Senators aren’t pushing Anderson back from his injury too early.

“We want him back as soon as we can get him back, but the play of Ben Bishop and Robin Lehner has certainly made it a little bit easier for us to be patient through all of this,” MacLean said after Anderson practiced with the team Monday. “Also, it’s a credit to the abilities of Ben and Robin and in how professional they’ve been and how far they’ve come as young goaltenders, taking advantage of an opportunity with injuries. It’s great growth for all of them.”

A few weeks back, Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson said the team has been “spoiled” because of the work of the goaltenders and it continues to go on and on, regardless of who is in the net.

“We’ve got Craig, who is hopefully coming back soon, but in the meantime, Ben and Robin have just been fantastic,” winger Colin Greening said following Monday’s win. “When you look at (Bishop’s) poise in the shootout, it was just great. I can’t say enough about those guys.”

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