The Ottawa Senators spent the majority of the year relying on Craig Anderson in net. With Mike Condon dealing with injuries and Mike McKenna just not being quite good enough, General Manager Pierre Dorion decided to go out and get Vancouver Canucks backup Anders Nilsson.
Most Sens fans loved the move at first because it got rid of coach-favourite Tom Pyatt. However, it also did so much more than that. Anders Nilsson has come in and helped the Sens in net in a few ways.
Anders Nilsson Looking Like Good Bet
Let’s start with the obvious one here. Nilsson’s play has been his biggest asset to the Senators. Since joining the Ottawa Senators, he has played in 11 games. They have won just six of those games. However, that is to no fault of Anders Nilsson. He has posted a 0.933 save percentage and a 2.38 goals-against average. He has come in and taken the starters net away from Anderson for the time being.
On top of that, he has had multiple 40-save performances that have helped the Sens snap some ugly losing streaks. At the time of the trade, Anderson was out and it was between him and Marcus Hogberg to take the net. After a few sloppy games by Hogberg, Nilsson stepped up and really has not looked back.
Since Jan. 2, the time of the trade, he has helped the Sens have the 12th best save percentage at 5v5. He has also helped the Sens have the ninth best save percentage in all situations — a much better situation than when they ranked 28th and 27th respectively from the start of the year until Jan. 1.
Rest For Craig Anderson
So, we know that Anders Nilsson has helped Ottawa by just being good. However, his play gives other help to this team. At this time, Anderson is out with an injury sustained from taking a tennis ball to the eye. However, when he does return, Nilsson will be providing him with some much-needed rest from game to game.
Back in December, I wrote about how the Sens need to help Anderson out in more ways than one. At that time, Anderson was on pace to play in 73 of the games for Ottawa this year. In 2019, this is unsustainable for anyone, let alone a 37-year-old. Factor in that Ottawa did and still does allow an absurd amount of shots, and you get a pace that is unsustainable for a goalie.
However, now with Anders Nilsson, the Sens can split some of the starts. Craig Anderson won’t be relied on two times in four nights or three times in a week. This makes it a safe bet that his game should improve too. A little more rest, so he isn’t overworked, should make his starts sharper.
How To Split Them
So, how should the Sens split Nilsson and Anderson? There a few ways Guy Boucher can handle this. First, he could do an alternating start. Having guys split the games one and one so that each gets ample rest. This could benefit Ottawa as neither of these guys are obvious starters at this time in their career. Having a tandem that can split the minutes could be beneficial.
Or, the Sens could run with the hot hand. There should be no complaints with this either. If one of the two guys throw together a few hot starts, give him a ride. Similarly, if one guy struggles in a few starts, let him sit an extra one or two. This way can also be convenient as it will give Ottawa the best possible goaltending. However, the coach needs to be careful and realize when the goalie is cooling down. Running the same guy into the ground for six or seven games, even when results are not there, just won’t be beneficial.
There have already been some questions floated around by Sens fans if Anders Nilsson is someone they should re-sign. For this, Sens fans and more importantly, management really need to remember their habit of rewarding goalies for small stretches.
The Sens have seen Andrew Hammond and Mike Condon help them out for 25-40 games and rewarded them with three-year deals. This came despite knowing both of these guys are very likely NHL backups and not starters. Now, both of those deals don’t look good. Hammond was shipped off to the Colorado Avalanche as a cap dump in the Matt Duchene trade. Mike Condon is recovering from injuries in the AHL and hasn’t even been thought of to bring back anytime soon.
With Nilsson, the Sens need to be super careful. While a one-year deal would be more than OK, extending it to a multi-year deal could be another bad mistake. Ottawa has two young goalies in Hogberg and Filip Gustavsson in the AHL. While the plan is they develop down there a bit longer, things always tend to happen faster than planned in the NHL.
Who knows what this team or its goalie situation will look like in two years. However, that is all the more reason to take it year by year. If Anders Nilsson keeps playing this way, he will have earned a contract with Ottawa. But they do need to keep in mind things can change quickly. For now, Nilsson has provided Ottawa with some much-needed help.