American goaltenders bode well for Senators
With Anderson and Bishop between the pipes, Ottawa is poised to capitalize on the recent success of U.S. netminders in the NHL, writes Ian Mendes
If the trend of American goalies winning the Stanley Cup continues, the Ottawa Senators are well covered.
Ottawa is currently the only team in the NHL with a tandem of U.S.-born goaltenders. The netminders have a distinct Midwest feel, as Craig Anderson hails from Park Ridge, Ill., and Ben Bishop grew up in St. Louis.
Their respective backgrounds bode well for the Senators because American goaltenders have dominated the NHL scene over the past couple of seasons.
In 2011, Tim Thomas had perhaps the greatest statistical season for any goaltender in NHL history. He set a record by posting a .938 save percentage and capped off the campaign by winning the Vezina and Conn Smythe trophies to go along with Boston's first Stanley Cup in almost 40 years.
Last year, Jonathan Quick was the backbone of an eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings team that made a dominant run to the Stanley Cup.
The netminder breezed through the post-season with a 16-4 record and 1.41 goals-against average that also earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy in helping the Kings to the first championship in their 45-year history.
So when you see Craig Anderson off to a blazing start with the Senators - one that earned him the NHL's first star of the month for his work in a truncated January - you can't help but think there is something to this trend.
"So you're saying the third time is a charm," Anderson said with a laugh, when asked about following in the footsteps of his fellow American netminders.
There is more to Anderson's connection with Thom-as and Quick than just his American passport.
When Thomas had his magical season in 2010-11, he was pushed at the start of that campaign by Tuukka Rask, who had made a strong case that he was ready to be an NHL starter.
The 2011-12 season started with whispers that Jonathan Bernier was ready to challenge Quick for the starter's job in Los Angeles.
For his part, Anderson rolled into the shortened training camp this season having to stave off not one - but two - competitors for his job.
In addition to Bishop, he had to contend with the ultra-talented Robin Lehner, whom most scouts predict will be this organization's top goaltender in the near future.
In the face of this stiff competition, Anderson responded by simply strengthening his grip on the No. 1 job in Ottawa. His .964 save percentage and 1.12 goals-against average only tell a portion of the story. That he has not allowed a goal after the first period in any of his eight starts this season is simply staggering.
If Anderson is playing this well in a year from now, you can be assured he will be on Team USA's radar for the Olympics in Sochi, provided NHLers are participating in those games.
The Americans boast the deepest collection of goaltenders in the world right now.
In addition to Quick and Anderson, there is Buffalo's Ryan Miller, who was named the MVP of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver and also captured the NHL's Vezina Trophy that same year. Cory Schneider would also be in the mix, as would Thomas, provided he emerges from his underground bunker and plays next season.
Whatever the case, the Americans have a significant edge over their Canadian counterparts in goal. The most recent Canadian goalie to win the Stanley Cup is Marc-Andre Fleury, but his subsequent post-season struggles have cast some doubt onto his abilities to handle the pressure of a big game.
Roberto Luongo's implosion during the Stanley Cup Final in 2011 has probably taken him out of the running, while age has likely removed Martin Brodeur from the picture.
Carey Price might be the most logical starter for Team Canada, but he's only won a single playoff round in the NHL, and that was five years ago.
Anderson believes that the American goalie trend is merely typical for the sport.
"I'm pretty sure it just goes in cycles," he said.
"For a while there it was French-Canadian goalies. And then it was Finnish goalies. It's just one of those things where timing is everything.
"I think hockey is getting pretty big in the U.S., so you're going to see more and more American players. But I can't really describe why that is."
When he was a kid growing up in suburban Chicago, Anderson actually idolized a French-Canadian goalie. Because the Blackhawks ownership blacked out games on local television, the young Anderson never got a chance to watch the likes of Ed Belfour and Dominik Hasek.
"You can ask my sister now, but all I did was run around the house acting like Patrick Roy," says Anderson.
"It's one of those things where as a young kid, you gravitate toward the best goalie in the league. And Patrick Roy was the best at the time."
If young kids today are still emulating the best goalie in the game, there's a pretty good chance some of them are running around pretending to be Craig Anderson right now.
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