Though some found it surprising to see the Ottawa Senators ink goaltender Craig Anderson to a three-year deal, amid speculation that Robin Lehner would take the reins as starter this coming season, former Senators netminder Patrick Lalime thinks the tandem will be a strength of the club moving forward.
Having both players under contract should only help to fortify the position for the team’s future.
“I think that’s one of their strengths,” Lalime told ESPN.com in a recent telephone conversation. “Craig Anderson is one of the better goalies in the league. He’s a streaky goalie, but when he’s hot, he’s one of the best. I think Robin Lehner is still learning, but he’s got a good foundation and he’s a battler. He likes to win. He likes to play. He’s got the attitude of No. 1 guy, and eventually he will be. I’m not worried about that.”
The 40-year-old Lalime, who holds the Senators franchise record in career wins, said he thinks Anderson will come into training camp with top billing but that the two players will push each other in a healthy competition.
Anderson, 33, posted a pedestrian .911 save percentage last season but recorded an NHL-best .941 in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season just two years ago.
“I think Craig’s gonna be the go-to guy to start with. I know Robin can do the job -- I have no worries he can do the job. I think the good thing is they have them signed for a pretty good price,” said Lalime, who will join TVA this season as an analyst. “They have two good goaltenders and they can make a decision based on that a little easier. I think Anderson is the guy starting, but I know Robin; once he gets his chance he’ll run with it.”
Lalime said the team’s main challenge will be in scoring, especially making up for former captain Jason Spezza, who was traded to Dallas this summer in a package that included Alex Chiasson going back to Ottawa in the deal.
Lalime described Chiasson as a high-energy, physical forward, the “type of player every team wants,” but he knows it will take a collective effort if the Sens want to make up for the nearly point-per-game production they will lose in Spezza’s absence.
“That will be their biggest challenge this year,” Lalime predicted, “to find a way to get a group of young guys coming in and making a difference.”
Lalime thinks the club will lean on players like Bobby Ryan and Erik Karlsson to be the cornerstone players on both sides of the puck. In terms of leadership, Lalime knows that veterans like Chris Phillips and Chris Neil will take on even more responsibility with the loss of captains Daniel Alfredsson and Spezza in consecutive offseasons.
“Those guys are still there, they know the game, and they are well-liked in the room,” said Lalime, who played with both players during his days as a Senator. “They’re good veterans, good team guys. They’ll have a big part to do.”
But the biggest predictor for the team’s success, and whether they make the playoffs, will probably hinge on what sort of production they get from their centermen. Kyle Turris will take on the top-line center role, with veteran David Legwand expected to slot in on the second line.
Legwand was signed as a free agent this summer, after recording 51 points last season while playing for both the Nashville Predators and the Detroit Red Wings. Turris had a career year last season, finishing third among Senators in scoring with 26 goals and 58 points.
“It’s a tough league. You need to be ‘game on’ every night. You can’t have a bad streak,” Lalime said. "They’ll need to get some scoring down the middle lane. ... It’s so important, and that will be the biggest challenge.”