For many hockey fans and members of the media, last night's game changed the way that they have perceived the Senators. There's a definite 'holy shit these guys are for real' attitude that is starting to permeate the news and the social media reactions. Having said that, with Ottawa in the thick of the playoff hunt, the importance of each of this team's final 39 games cannot be understated. For the first time in a long time, it feels like every coaching decision and lineup decision has significant far reaching ramifications.
Keeping this in mind, it is going to be interesting watching Paul MacLean monitor Craig Anderson's workload moving forward. Having played in 40 of the team's 45 games this season, Anderson's on an unsustainable pace. Not only has Anderson only played in more than 70 games once, this season's 40 games already represent the second most number of games that he's played in during one season. Yet, with Ottawa in the thick of the playoff hunt, playing Anderson has become somewhat of a necessity thanks to presence of a backup goaltender who cannot be relied upon to win games.
In fairness to Alex Auld, he's had his moments this season. There was an inspired 2-1 loss to the Washington Capitals on October 15th and there was that thrilling 2-1 OT loss to the Vancouver Canucks on November 20th. Unfortunately for Alex, those moments have been few and far between. Despite a 1-0-1 record in his past four games, his peripheral numbers -- a 4.26 GAA and a save percentage of .873 -- look like something that you would have seen during the 1970's or 80's.
In an interview with Justin Goldman from The Goalie Guild on our podcast this past summer, we discussed what would be an appropriate size of games for Anderson to play in and he mentioned that a sample size of 60 to 65 games would be an appropriate number of games to keep him fresh, focused and ready for the postseason. Under the current setup, I cannot imagine the Senators are completely comfortable using Auld 8 to 12 more times in high leverage games.
While you can hardly blame the Senators for bringing in a veteran backup tendy during what was expected to be a rebuilding year, circumstances change. This season was designed to one of a transition, just another year to develop the team's younger skaters and peddle the team's veteran assets. Rather than expose a young goaltender to the ebbs and flows of a losing environment, the team elected to sign Auld; thereby allowing Lehner to suit up and hopefully play in 50 or more games at the AHL level.
Unfortunately for Lehner, like the rest of Binghamton teammates, his season has been hampered somewhat by injuries. Not only have they caused him to split the starts with veteran journeyman Mike McKenna, even when healthy, it's not like Lehner has been the benefactor of playing behind a good team. In fact, in light of the way Binghamton's season has gone, it's enough to wonder whether it'd be more prudent for his development to promote him in the midst of Ottawa's playoff run.
With Auld being an unrestricted free agent at the season, it's likely that Lehner would enter next as the backup goaltender anyways. However, with the added threat of a work stoppage looming over the NHL, why not add to Lehner to the mix now? What better time to add a hunter to the playoff hunt?
Count me among those who are all aboard the Lehn Train.