OTTAWA – Everyone loves a winner, especially the fans of the Ottawa Senators since they haven’t seen much of one this season.
It was for that reason that new goaltender Craig Anderson received one of the loudest ovations from the crowd at Scotiabank Place when he took to the ice Monday during the Senators’ skills competition.
Anderson, acquired Friday in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche, made quite a first impression in his Senators debut a night later, stopping all 47 shots he faced in regulation and three more in a shootout to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 1-0 at the Air Canada Centre.
“It was a good feeling. Coming in here, the fans are welcoming to a new addition,” Anderson said Monday after taking part in the skills event. “For me, it’s just a matter of going out there and giving the team a chance to win and working as hard as I can and earning the respect of the people that are paying the tickets.”
Any goalie that can stop the puck regularly is a welcome addition at any time in Ottawa. To do it in this dismal season and against the Senators’ biggest rival is even better.
“It was the first (shutout) of the year, so it means a lot to me to get that underneath the belt and get that confidence rolling a little bit,” the 29-year-old Anderson said. “Going in and doing it against Toronto is more of a media and fan thing than anything else. I would have taken it against any team, but I think it means more to the fans and more to the media of Ontario that it happened against Toronto.
“I’ll just ride the roller-coaster ride that you guys are putting me on.”
The Senators have been busy ahead of the Feb. 28 NHL trade deadline, making four days in a little more than a week and a half.
Forwards Mike Fisher (Nashville), Chris Kelly (Boston) and Jarkko Ruutu (Anaheim) landed GM Bryan Murray draft picks in return, so the arrival of Anderson was the first warm body that came back the other way.
Murray said it was important to show the players that would be sticking around that the team still wanted to foster a winning environment, so Anderson’s first start was definitely a step in the right direction.
His 47 stops tied the franchise’s regular-season record for most in a game. Three others had done it before, the last being Mike Bales in a 4-3 loss on Nov. 9, 1995.
According to Elias Sports, Anderson is just the fourth netminder since the NHL’s expansion era to post a shutout in his first game with a team while facing at least 40 shots. Boston’s Andre Gill (1967), Minnesota’s Markus Mattsson (1983) and Vancouver’s Mike Fountain (1996) are the others.
“He looked like he was a real calming presence for us the other night,” Senators centre Jason Spezza said. “He talked to the defence well, he kind of controlled the play and he played great.”
The deal to bring in Anderson saw Brian Elliott head in the other direction.
Elliott, a 25-year-old native of Newmarket, Ont., had some good moments in Ottawa, but never quite was able to convince fans, the media, and eventually management, that he’d be a true No. 1 goaltender.
With Pascal Leclaire often injured his contract set to expire after the year, he’ll be allowed to walk away.
The organization seems convinced that Robin Lehner will be their long-term solution in goal, but the big Swede is in his first professional year with Binghamton of the American Hockey League and his playing time has been limited by injury and the constant shuttling to and from Ottawa.
So Anderson will be the go-to guy for now.
Leclaire, who’s missed 25 straight games with a lower-body injury, has been practising and was assigned to Binghamton on Monday for a conditioning stint before he returns to Ottawa to back up Anderson and allow Lehner to return to the minors.
The native of Park Ridge, Ill., will become an unrestricted free agent this summer and the Senators could be interested in retaining his services for next year, allowing Lehner to join Ottawa as a backup.
According to a report in Monday’s Denver Post, Anderson supposedly turned down a two-year, US $7.5-million extension last off-season to remain in Colorado. He’s making $1.812 million this year.
He’s expected to make his first home start Wednesday when the Florida Panthers visit.
“You’re going to see a lot of him,” Senators coach Cory Clouston said Monday. “It’s an opportunity for us to get to know him, an opportunity for him to get to know us, an opportunity for him to play a lot of games down the stretch and win some games for us. We’ll see how things shape up, obviously, when the season ends for him.”
Anderson has paid his dues, serving mostly as an understudy with the Chicago Blackhawks and Florida Panthers. After signing with the Avalanche in the summer of 2009, he went 38-25-7 with a .917 save percentage and 2.64 goals-against average last year en route to being named team MVP.
This year didn’t go as well for neither Anderson nor the Avalanche after he was hampered with a knee injury that forced him to miss 10 games and a groin injury that cost him another three.
With Saturday’s win over the Leafs, his record improved to 14-15-3 with a .901 save percentage and a 3.17 GAA.
In Ottawa, he’s facing a new challenge in joining a team that is in the running to finish dead last overall.
The Senators were playing the Boston Bruins on Friday when Anderson arrived in Ottawa in time to see his new team suffer a 4-2 loss, its 19th defeat in 21 games. He took up his spot on the bench and spent much of his time shaking hands and introducing himself to his new teammates.
He received a big ovation from the fans when he was shown taking his seat, and he’ll get an even louder one if he can help Ottawa’s depleted roster be competitive down the stretch.
“We were in the same boat in Colorado,” said Anderson, whose wife Nicholle won’t join him in Ottawa as the couple is expecting their first child in July. “When things aren’t going the way you wanted them to, changes are made. Changes were made in Colorado, obviously change were made here. Everybody, when changes are made, they’re trying to make the team better. I just want to come in here and show these guys that I can play and keep proving that I can be the guy they can count upon.
“It’s a new team, new guys, a new sweater, but still the same constant is there: stop the hockey puck. It’s a great town so far from what I’ve seen. I could definitely see myself ending up here long-term.”
On Monday, during the team’s skills competition, rookie Colin Greening also made a surprisingly good showing, setting a new team record in the fastest skater competition and challenging Matt Carkner for the team’s hardest shot.
Greening, a 24-year-old forward from St. John’s, N.L., who made his NHL debut on Feb. 1 and has played three career games, upstaged defenceman Erik Karlsson after Karlsson’s lap of 13.700 seconds around the ice broke Antoine Vermette’s old team record of 13.709. Greening went next and did it in 13.665 seconds.
“I thought Erik was going to get the that, for sure,” Greening said. “When I saw I was next, I was just like, ‘Don’t get embarrassed.”
Greening then fired a slapshot at 100.5 miles per hour, topped only by Carkner’s 101.1 miles per hour. His performance earned the moniker of “Usain Bolt” from Spezza.
“He’s the fastest man alive,” Spezza quipped.
Clouston also said Monday that forward Peter Regin will undergo tests on his injured left shoulder on Tuesday and could require surgery. Either way, he may be done for the season.
Regin suffered the injury in the third period of Saturday’s game after being taken into the boards by Toronto’s Joey Crabb and left the arena with his shoulder in a harness.