20 January 2014

Let's worry about Anderson and the early goals.

Craig Anderson hasn't been the same rock-solid goaltender he was last season. That's fine; last season, he only played 24 games and it was over an abbreviated schedule besides. He was due to regress, anyway, from that league-leading 94.1% save percentage. This season, he's fallen to 90.2%, 41st league-wide. If we take a closer look at the shots which Anderson failed to save, however, something potentially troubling emerges: in 34 games so far, he has let in at least one goal in the first eleven shots in 24 games.

We might remember from last season that Anderson used to shut the door after the first period. Letting in one first-period goal or two mattered less when your overall game was at a niveau élevé. It was also what helped the Sens grab onto a playoff spot considering the scoring woes that plagued the entire team; without Anderson (along with Lehner and Bishop) stopping a disproportionately large amount of shots, the Sens' goal differential would have been much uglier than its +7 rating when all was said and done at the end of the regular season. So far this season, we're sitting at -7. And yet we're scoring at a 2.80 goals-per-game pace — 0.47 better than the 2011-12 season. That comes out to a difference of 22 goals over a 48-game season, and 38 goals over an 82-game season. But last season, we were 2nd in goals-against/game, at 2.08; this season, we're 2nd-last, with 3.06 goals against per game.

It seems like something's broken with our goaltending.

This position is difficult for a hobbyist blogger like myself to talk about given the historically highly optical nature of goaltender analysis and the implication of the defence playing in front of the goalie in question. But one thing that isn't hard to see is that being unable to save 100% of the first ten shots night after night puts your team at a much higher risk of a goal-deficit, given the fact that the Sens are, even with their high goals-per-game rate, not scoring within the first ten shots as frequently as their opponents are. When you score less than the other team, you lose. The fact that Ottawa's within reaching distance of a playoff spot is more a testament to the efficacity of our forward corps than anything else.

The worst part is that whenever Anderson gives up an early goal, we seem more likely to give up a lot more goals. No more shut door after the first; Anderson has given up 4 goals or more in fourteen games this season already. Add on top of that the two games where he was pulled 4 minutes into the first period thanks to his letting in early goals, and you've got an ugly picture indeed.

What is there to do? Anderson has proven in the past that he can play at elite levels, and the fact that save percentage is a very repeatable statistic indicates that he will likely begin to regress the other way, until he's stabilized at his expected norm. But the Sens need him to be a difference-maker right now, not in the future when his statistics have normalized, and if the coaching staff and Anderson himself cannot find a way to address the early-goal problem (among others), then maybe it's Lehner's turn to play around a little in net.


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