Nobody likes a second-guesser. What about a first-guesser?
I reserve the right to call out the Ottawa Senators for botching their goaltending over the past 72 hours, considering I said it during the Calgary game and, more importantly, before Ottawa's crucial loss to the Boston Bruins Tuesday night. The four-point swing made the difference between trailing Boston by three points in the Eastern Conference wild-card race, with a game in hand, to a seven-point deficit. Woof.
The frustrating thing about Tuesday's defeat: Senators coach Dave Cameron did not put his team's best foot forward. Apologies to Craig Anderson, but he isn't the premier option in net right now. He's been almost always outstanding since a 2011 trade brought him to Canada's capital. He has a .921 save percentage as a Senator, with a .925 mark this season.
But Anderson, as good as he is, did not start a game between Jan. 21 and March 8. The Ottawa Senators' record during that period: 10-5-2. They played their best hockey of the season during Anderson's absence, largely because of Andrew 'The Hamburglar' Hammond's play in goal. He found his way into Ottawa's lineup Feb. 16 to mop up Robin Lehner's mess and never looked back. The Sens handed Hammond the keys, and all he's done is go 7-0-1 with a 1.54 goals-against average and .954 SP. He's the first goalie in 76 years to allow two or fewer goals in each of his first eight starts. He shut out the friggin' Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings in back-to-back starts on the road. No goalie in the history of the universe had done that.
Hammond started three times in four nights last week. He started at home Friday, had an off day at home, and his team played at home Sunday. Cameron decided the perfect moment to bring the healed Anderson back into the lineup was that night's tilt against the team-of-destiny Calgary Flames.
I understand the idea that Cameron felt he owed Anderson something, and that the Sens didn't hand Anderson a four-year, $12.6-million extension last year to watch games in a ballcap. Anderson was in tears last week telling Ottawa media how badly he wanted back in the lineup. But this wasn't a back-to-back situation. Ottawa had been at home several days. And Cameron made the call right in the middle of the Sens' inspiring surge into the Eastern Conference playoff race. Sure, the inspired play of youngsters Mika Zibanejad, Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman also keyed the streak, as did Erik Karlsson being Erik Karlsson. But Hammond stopped better than 95 percent of the shots directed his way. His team earned 15 of a possible 16 points in his starts. Come on.
Anderson deserved to play sooner or later. But how about one of this Thursday and Friday's crucial road games against the first-place Montreal Canadiens and first-place New York Islanders? Even a hot Hammond could've used a rest for one of those contests. Instead, Cameron threw Anderson in not just for the Calgary game, but also the Boston game, when Ottawa had no margin for error. Anderson wasn't the reason Ottawa blew a 4-0 third-period lead on Sunday and lost 3-1 Tuesday, but he certainly didn't help the cause, allowing seven goals on 68 shots for an .897 SP.
Seeing this situation unfold, I can't help but wonder if these Ottawa Senators would've benched Tom Brady and turned back to Drew Bledsoe in 2001. Remember, Bledsoe was the Patriots' franchise quarterback, drafted first overall in 1993. He entered 2001 having inked a new 10-year, $103-million deal. He sustained internal bleeding after a Week 2 hit and was replaced by Brady. Bledsoe was cleared to return during the season, yet Belichick stuck with Brady.
It's easy to say now, "Come on. Comparing the greatest quarterback of all-time to Hammond?" But don't forget what Brady was at the time. He was a sixth-round pick out of Michigan, 199th overall, a mere project stuck behind a franchise player. But Belichick didn't want to fix what wasn't broke when Brady was in the lineup. The Patriots went 11-3 with their fresh-faced starter and won the Super Bowl that year. The rest is history, to put it oh-so lightly.
Hammond, an undrafted 27-year-old, comes even less heralded than a young Brady. But what Hammond's doing is working, and the Sens have played amazingly well in front of him. Sure, he'll regress, but that's when you go back to Anderson. Instead, Cameron's choice Tuesday could very well cost this team a playoff berth.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin