Monthly Archives: May 2017

Mental toughness has made goalie Craig Anderson the Ottawa Senators’ steely savior

OTTAWA — Mike Condon is a goalie union guy. Given the opportunity, the Ottawa Senators backup likes to chat with opposing netminders before games. Maybe he’ll just say hello. During warm-ups, he often talks shop with other goalies along the red line.

Last year, when Condon was serving as a backup for the Pittsburgh Penguins, he faced the Senators. Before the game, Condon made eye contact with Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson, surmised that Anderson didn’t want to chat and simply gave a little head nod.

Anderson just stared back at him.

Condon, an affable guy, took the slight like most of us would.

“[I thought], ‘This guy’s a jerk,’” said Condon, who is now Anderson’s backup in Ottawa, with a laugh. “I don’t know what the right word is — surly?”

The moment stuck with Condon — who, along with Anderson and the rest of their Senators teammates, will face Pittsburgh on Thursday in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals — so he later asked him about it. Why couldn’t Anderson at least have nodded back?

“He was like, ‘I’m playing you. I want to beat you,’” Condon said. “He’s a great guy. But he’s a great competitor.”

And that was before the game. Once the puck drops, Anderson is even more intense. Condon pointed to an exchange between Anderson and Pittsburgh Penguins center Evgeni Malkin near the end of one of the Eastern Conference final games. Malkin had spent a little too much time in the crease and Condon heard Anderson make it clear to the Penguins star that it wasn’t acceptable.

“He got into it with Malkin,” Condon said. “He said he was going to slash him if he came in there again. A little old-school hockey.”

Anderson is definitely a throwback — or maybe, at 36, one of the last ones standing from a bygone era. He’s not robotic. He doesn’t necessarily rely on technique or play on auto-pilot. He’s out there making saves. When Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was in the other net, seeing how Fleury and Anderson reacted to shots was sometimes like watching a game film from another time. At times, it looks like Anderson is almost daring the shooter to beat him.

Too often in Game 5, they did. Anderson was pulled — not once, but twice — as he allowed four goals on 14 shots. It threatened to end a season that has been part magical and part inspirational for Anderson on an ugly note. The Penguins’ offense had finally arrived, and it looked like there was nothing Anderson could do about it.

Until Game 6.

“He gave us a chance to come back,” Senators forward Mike Hoffman said of Anderson, who made 45 saves in Ottawa’s 2-1 win over the Penguins on Tuesday night.

Anderson is the main reason there will be a Game 7 in this series. The way he completely flushed away a disappointing performance and rebounded with one of the most impressive individual goaltending displays this postseason, allowing the Senators to live another day, encapsulates his mental toughness as well as anything.

The Senators expect that from Anderson. They’ve seen him do it too many times not to.

How long did it take Anderson to move on from the ugly loss in Game 5?

“Oh God, Andy does that right after the game,” Senators defenseman Marc Methot said. “He’s a veteran goalie. He’s been around a long time. In my opinion, [he's] one of the best goaltenders in the league and he’s shown it all season for us. To see him have a bounce-back game, I’m not even remotely surprised.”

Anderson has been in the NHL since the 2002-03 season. He’s seen some things.

He said his biggest strides as a pro came once he started focusing on the mental aspect of the game. He began working with a sports psychologist shortly after his professional career started. Anderson continues to study the psychological side of the game by reading books on the topic.

“Having nights like tonight just emphasizes things you’ve read or things you’ve been taught,” Anderson said after carrying his team in Game 6.

When Senators coach Guy Boucher, who coached the Tampa Bay Lightning from 2010 to 2013, followed by a stint in Switzerland, was considering whether to return to NHL — and specifically whether to take that plunge with the Senators — the goalie situation was where he focused. Yes, it would be nice to coach star defenseman Erik Karlsson, but Boucher had been burned previously by bad goaltending.

The Lightning have benefited from standout play from both Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy the past few years. But it wasn’t always that way in Tampa Bay. When a Boucher-led team last made the postseason, it was on the back of a resurrected Dwayne Roloson, who at 41 helped the Lightning reach the 2011 Eastern Conference finals, where they lost to the Bruins in seven games.

Once that magic ended, the Lightning cycled through goalies. The season Boucher was fired, his options in goal were Anders Lindback and Mathieu Garon, neither of whom had a save percentage above .902. It made winning consistently nearly impossible.

So when Boucher considered the Senators job, he took it seriously first and foremost because of Anderson.

“If I didn’t have a No. 1 goalie, I didn’t want the job,” Boucher said. “It’s hell when you don’t have one, because everything you do turns to darkness.”

Thanks to Anderson, the light is still burning for this remarkable Senators playoff run. He’s given them one more game. At least.

Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson leaves Game 5 to rest

PITTSBURGH — Ottawa Senators star defenseman Erik Karlsson, who has been battling leg injuries, left Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals in the second period Sunday after his left ankle twisted awkwardly when he collided with Pittsburgh Penguins forward Scott Wilson along the boards.

Senators coach Guy Boucher said after the game — a 7-0 Pittsburgh victory — that he decided not to play Karlsson in the third period with the Senators trailing 5-0. He expects him to be ready for Game 6 on Tuesday.

Karlsson already has played through hairline fractures in the same foot during this playoff run for the Senators, a revelation he shared following the first-round win over Boston.

Ottawa forward Derick Brassard and defenseman Cody Ceci also were not on the bench for the third period. Brassard had a collision with Penguins forward Chris Kunitz that kept him face down on the ice for several moments. Ceci has battled injuries down the stretch this season. Boucher said they also could have played if the game was close.

The Penguins lead the series 3-2.

Pens’ Marc-Andre Fleury pulled after Senators score 4 in first

The Pittsburgh Penguins pulled starting goalie Marc-Andre Fleury after he allowed four Ottawa Senators goals on nine shots in less than 13 minutes of work in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Matt Murray came in to replace Fleury in his first action of the 2017 playoffs. Murray had been penciled in as the team’s starting goaltender, but suffered a lower-body injury in warm-ups prior to Game 1 of the team’s first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Murray served as the team’s goalie last postseason — one that ended with the Penguins hoisting the Stanley Cup.

The best-of-seven series is tied 1-1.

Fleury was 18-10-7 this season for the Penguins with a .909 save percentage. He started one playoff game during the Penguins’ run last spring. He was the hero of Pittsburgh’s Game 7 victory over Detroit in the 2009 Stanley Cup finals.

Alex Ovechkin confirms he played through hamstring, knee injuries

ARLINGTON, Va. — Washington Capitals superstar Alex Ovechkin played through hamstring and knee injuries that hampered him in the playoffs.

During the Capitals’ last media availability of the season Friday, Ovechkin said he felt something in his hamstring during Game 3 of the second-round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins and needed injections to numb the pain the rest of the way. A hit by Toronto’s Nazem Kadri in Game 5 of the first round caused the left knee injury, which Ovechkin downplayed.

Ovechkin said there were no tears in his hamstring or knee and that he did not need surgery.

“You don’t want to play with any sort of injury, obviously,” Ovechkin said. “Of course, you don’t feel 100 percent, you don’t [have] strength in your leg, but you play through that, you know? Some players play with broken hand, broken leg, and you know, because it’s the playoffs. You have to sacrifice your body to get success and get the result.”

The 31-year-old captain had eight points in 13 playoff games as Washington was eliminated before the conference finals for the ninth time in as many chances. Ovechkin was moved to the third line midway through the Penguins series but said that had nothing to do with the injuries.

Ovechkin said he will spend some time with his family in Miami and will then see doctors in Washington.

Washington teammate Karl Alzner played with a broken bone in his hand and Marcus Johansson with a broken finger. Several other players talked about not being 100 percent during the playoff run.

The injuries, specifically to his hamstring, was bad enough to keep Ovechkin from playing for Russia at the world championships, which he has done 12 times

“I talked to (Russia’s coach) and just said I’m not able to help the team,” Ovechkin added. “If I can’t, I can’t. I wish him luck and I’m going to cheer for them. It’s time to recover. It’s time to take a deep breath and take some time off and get back to work.

“I still have three months until training camp. Come back here healthy and strong and back on track.”

Dwight Howard pulled over hours before Hawks eliminated in Game 6

Atlanta Hawks center Dwight Howard was pulled over for speeding in the early morning hours of April 28 — the same day as the Hawks’ series-ending Game 6 loss to the Washington Wizards in the first round.

Howard was going 95 mph in a 65 mph zone, prompting Dunwoody, Georgia, police to pull him over, according to the police report obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Upon questioning Howard, police learned the Hawks center was driving on a suspended registration and without insurance.

Howard was ticketed for lack of insurance, given a verbal warning for speeding and had his car towed.

The Hawks were eliminated 115-99 in a game that tipped off less than 18 hours after Howard’s incident.

An Atlanta native, Howard had nine points and seven rebounds over 23 minutes — the fewest minutes by any of the Hawks’ starters in Game 6.

For the series, Howard averaged just eight points and 10.7 rebounds in 26.2 minutes.

Caps’ Niskanen believes Pens may retaliate for hit on Sidney Crosby

PITTSBURGH — Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen reiterated his stance that he never tried to hurt Penguins captain Sidney Crosby in Game 3, explaining that the play that ended up concussing Crosby and that will keep him out of Game 4 tonight in Pittsburgh, was so fast he couldn’t avoid it.

“I wish I had one hand on my stick and my hands were way down,” Niskanen said Wednesday after the Capitals’ morning skate. “The collision happened fast.”

He also expects that, in an emotionally charged atmosphere, there might be teammates of Crosby’s out for retribution. “Possibly,” Niskanen said. “It’s a hockey game. Hockey players are emotional guys. If that happens, we’ll cross that bridge.”

Niskanen, Crosby’s former teammate from their time together with the Penguins, said he hasn’t reached out to Crosby yet after the collision and fully expected Crosby still to be angry about the hit. He said he’ll likely be in touch with his former teammate once everything settles down.

“When I was here, I got along with him really well,” Niskanen said. “He was a good leader, great teammate.”

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin also talked about the hit and Crosby’s absence from the series because of another concussion.

Ovechkin said it was hard to see Crosby go down the way he did.

“He’s a player you don’t want that stuff to happen,” Ovechkin said. “I hope he’s going to be fine… He’s the best player in the game, and he’s key for their success.”