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Odd Man Rush: Backup netminders grabbing headlines in short season

12:42 PM, Feb 22, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Ottawa Senators held their collective breath on Thursday night when star goaltender Craig Anderson left a shootout victory over the New York Rangers early due to a sprained ankle.

Anderson has been phenomenal this season, leading the league with a 1.49 goals against average and .952 save percentage. More importantly, he has kept the Senators in the playoff picture despite the long-term losses of winger Jason Spezza and reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson to injury.

But the netminder had to exit the game 1:43 into the third period when Rangers forward Chris Kreider was upended while charging to the net before sliding into Anderson. Ottawa's starting goaltender had stopped all 21 shots faced before leaving and New York tagged Sens backup netminder Ben Bishop for two goals to force overtime.

"You can tell it demoralized us a little bit initially," said Ottawa defenseman Marc Methot. "He's been basically the heart and soul of our team, or at least a large part of it. It's unfortunate, but it's the luck we're getting right now as a team. The good news is he's day-to-day and he'll hopefully be back within the near future."

Anderson tried to alleviate fears of his injury on Twitter after the game, saying his ankle is going to be OK and the he would "be back ASAP." But the Sens still recalled goaltender Robin Lehner from the minors on Friday.

Lehner served as Anderson's backup for the first two games this season before being sent to the minors and it will now be up to him and Bishop to hold down the pipes until Anderson is ready to return.

They won't be the first goaltenders to have to step into prime action this season and the duo hope to join a handful of reserve netminders who have had success already this season.

One of the bigger surprises this season has been the play of 30-year-old Anaheim Ducks rookie Viktor Fasth, who has won each of his first eight NHL decisions while posting a 1.78 GAA and .933 save percentage.

It was a long road to the NHL for Fasth, who excelled in the Swedish Elite League, winning consecutive goaltender of the year awards in the league, and guiding Team Sweden in the 2012 IIHF World Championships, before he signed as a free agent with the Ducks.

Fasth's play kept Anaheim atop the Pacific Division while No. 1 goaltender Jonas Hiller sat out four straight games due to a lower body injury before getting the start in a win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday.

Two days later, the Ducks awarded Fasth with a two-year contract extension, though he still seemed to accept his reserve role despite the recent success.

"No, I don't," he said when asked if he considered himself a starter. "Jonas played the last game against Columbus here and played incredibly well. I just try and work hard, and I will play when the coach tells me to play. That's how things work."

It has worked when Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau has turned to the Swede, who is just the third player in NHL history to win at least the first eight decisions of his career. Ray Emery holds the record, going 9-0-0 from 2003-05 while with the Ottawa Senators.

Speaking of Emery, he has continued to revive his career following a hip injury that threatened to end it.

Emery was once Ottawa's goaltender of the future, leading the franchise to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007 before a number of incidents on and off the ice led to his contract being bought out by the club. He spent a season playing in Russia before signing with the Philadelphia Flyers, appearing in 29 games in 2009-10 before eventually undergoing hip surgery.

However, the 30-year-old made a successful 10-game return with the Ducks in 2010-11, then won the backup job in Chicago the following season.

Emery has gotten a nice chunk of work this season, making three straight starts ahead of another scheduled start against the San Jose Sharks on Friday night, when the Blackhawks try to set an NHL record by extending their season- opening point streak to 17 games.

Starter Corey Crawford has been out with an upper-body injury but is close to returning after practicing on Thursday. Still, Emery has given Chicago coach Joel Quenneville something to think about when he picks his starter each game by winning each of his first six games this season with a 2.27 GAA and .925 save percentage.

"It was difficult, the injury I had and the rehabilitation, but I took that one step at a time," Emery said after a win over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday. "Hockey is a game and I'm fortunate to play it, but I just took it as kind of a challenge to come back. Now that I'm getting a chance to play I appreciate it."

That's the same thought process that St. Louis Blues netminder Jake Allen seemed to be taking over his recent stretch of starts.

The Blues won the William Jennings Trophy last season for having the fewest goals against thanks to the duo of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott.

Halak, though, suffered a groin injury on Feb. 1 and missed eight games in a row. St. Louis figured to be fine in net during his absence thanks to the presence of Elliott, but the goaltender has struggled to a 3-5-1 mark, 3.57 GAA and .849 save percentage in nine games this season.

In fact, Elliott has not appeared in St. Louis' last five games as Allen seized the opportunity for playing time, winning his first NHL three starts prior to a loss to the Sharks on Tuesday.

"This is what I've wanted since I turned pro, to get a chance here," said the 22-year-old rookie after the San Jose game. "I feel that I've played well in my four games here. I wouldn't change anything at all. It's just another learning experience for me. I'm not trying to get too high or too low, just trying to make the most of my opportunity."

With Halak returning to action the following night in a 1-0 overtime setback to the Colorado Avalanche, Allen was reassigned to the AHL on Thursday despite going 3-1-0 with a 2.62 GAA and .895 save percentage.

It was of no fault of Allen's, who has an entry-level contract, while Elliott would have had to go through waivers to be assigned to the minors.

But Allen has caught the eye of the Blues' staff and even if he doesn't make another NHL appearance this season, he may still have the save of the year.

(http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/console?id=202299#&navid=nhl-search)

Allen's last win came against Vancouver on Sunday opposite the Canucks' Roberto Luongo, who figured to be traded this offseason before getting a chance to play due to the early season struggles of Cory Schneider.

Though Schneider has righted the ship as of late, Luongo has yet to lose in regulation, going 4-0-3 with a shutout and solid 1.63 GAA this season. He won four straight appearances from Jan. 30-Feb. 12 while allowing more than two goals in just one of his eight games.

Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault has called his decision on which netminder to start a coin flip and Luongo appears likely to stick with the club for at least the rest of this season.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are one team that could bid for Luongo's services, tough they have had their own breakout backup in Ben Scrivens, an undrafted 26-year-old.

Scrivens' numbers are solid, 5-4-0 with a 2.10 GAA and .931 save percentage, and he made headlines by posting back-to-back shutouts -- the first of his career -- on Feb. 16 and 18.

He has started five straight games with No. 1 James Reimer out with a knee injury, going 3-2-0 while helping Toronto stay within two points of first place in the Northeast Division.

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