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Senators head to camp with strength in numbers in goal

TSN.ca Staff

1/10/2013 10:02:42 PM

While the Ottawa Senators may have been one of the surprise stories of the 2011-12 season, they enter a shortened 2013 campaign with one advantage over their Eastern Conference rivals: depth in the crease.

While starter Craig Anderson's 2011-12 numbers may have been less desirable than his recent outputs – his 2.84 goals-against average accounting for his highest since 2006 and his .914 save percentage accounting for his second lowest over that span - he managed to win 33 games, his second highest single-season total to date.

But it's the goalies behind Anderson on the depth chart that will make the Senators' brief training camp worth watching.

Robin Lehner has stymied the American Hockey league so far this year, posting a .944 save-percentage and a 1.90 goals-against in 21 games.

However, Ben Bishop – acquired from St. Louis prior to last season's trade deadline – has also put up marks of .928 and 2.66 in 12 games in Binghamton and at 26-years-old and standing six-foot-seven may be closer to NHL ready than the 21-year-old Lehner.

Anderson believes the trio will create healthy competition in camp and make Ottawa a stronger team overall.

"I think it's always good when you get guys playing well and pushing each other," he told TSN on Thursday. "It's just going to make everybody better around them."

The Senators finished eighth in the East last season, but did so largely on the strength of their offence. The Sens outscored all but three teams last season, so improved goaltending could go a long way to helping Ottawa repeat the feat.

"It's probably the strength of our organization right now," Senators forward Jason Spezza said. "You've got three very capable guys in [Anderson] that's shown at the NHL level that he's a solid number-one goaltender and two young guys that are playing real well right now. It's a nice luxury to have."

Coach Paul MacLean believes the team's netminders have an opportunity to inject some jump into the team's potent attack by allowing the team to move forward without worrying about conceding at the wrong time.

"The goaltending position is a really important position on every team as far as giving your team confidence in their abilities," MacLean said Thursday. "It gives them some freedom to play a little bit when you have strong goaltending and that's what these three guys give us is strong goaltending."

However, he would not go so far as to tip his hand as to which goaltender would get the lion's share of the work behind Anderson.

"We just have to make sure we're playing the right guys and that has to be the best guy no matter who it is," he said.

Anderson has kept busy over the duration of the lockout, spending time at a Florida Panthers practice facility working out with Roberto Luongo and butterfly guru Francois Allaire.

He believes that both the coach and the star netminder were able to keep him sharp, despite a lack of in-game action.

"Francois's been around a long time and he knows what it takes to coach goalies and to get them to where they need to be and obviously Roberto's an elite goaltender in this league every year," he said.

"I was fortunate to work with [some] of the best," he added. "It's always a learning process and take some good things from what they teach."

Still, Anderson returns to Ottawa with the confidence of his teammates, who seem ready to allow him time to get his game back, should he struggle early on.

"If [his] not playing is affecting him a little bit then he'll get a chance to get his game back," Spezza said. But I think Andy's the number one guy on merit and he needs to have the chance to prove that he isn't."