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The Senators are going to need another big season from Craig Anderson

This post is a part of Senators day at PHT…

During the Ottawa Senators’ stunning run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals much of the attention was focussed on their “boring” style of play under coach Guy Boucher, and how they were able to play a tight defensive game to scratch and claw their way to victories.

And all of that was a big factor.

Boucher put in place a system that worked for the talent he had, and the results were there.

But it’s not like this was a particularly great defensive team that shut teams down. They ended up getting outscored (by only two goals, but still) during the regular season, and when you look at the number of shots and total shot attempts they allowed, or the fact they were near the bottom of the league on the penalty kill they were pretty much a middle of the pack team.

Having a top-five player in the world in Erik Karlsson certainly helped, but so did the performance of starting goaltender Craig Anderson.

Anderson’s season was a difficult one off the ice as he left the team on more than one occasion to be with his wife, Nichole, as she went through her battle with cancer.

On the ice when he was in the lineup he was perhaps the Senators’ most important player (not best … but most important) because there was a noticeable difference in the team’s ability to win with him in net versus when there was any other goalie. A lot of that is due to the way the Senators played and the number of shots — and shot attempts — they surrendered.

Anderson has been an underrated starter for quite some time and since arriving in Ottawa has been one of the more productive starters in the league. His .920 save percentage since joining the Senators is among the 10 best in the league during that time (active goalies with at least 100 games played) and he always performed well in the playoffs (.929 career save percentage).

When he was in the lineup during the 2016-17 season the Senators, including playoffs, were 36-19-4, which would have been a 104-point pace over 82 games.

With the trio of Mike Condon, Chris Dreidger and Andrew Hammond they managed only a 19-17-6 record … an 85-point pace over 82 games.

That change is not a coincidence when you look at Anderson’s performance with a .926 regular season save percentage that was third best in the league, as well a .922 mark in the playoffs.

Without that level of play from Anderson — especially in the postseason — there was no system in the world that was going to lift Ottawa to the level it ended up reaching. They were only 15th in the league in terms of shots on goal against, and when it came to 5-on-5 play they were one of the worst teams in terms of giving up total shot attempts.

Combine that with an offense that wasn’t particularly explosive and it was always going to be a team that needed to rely on strong goaltending. And Anderson gave them that.

Given that the Senators are bringing back almost the exact same roster this season with the same coach using the same system there is little reason to believe much is going to change with the Senators’ style of play. That means there is going to be a lot of pressure on Anderson to put together another strong performance like the one we saw this past year. Even if a league-average effort from Anderson on the same number of shots would have added another 14-18 goals against to the Senators’ total for the season, a number that would have pushed them from 10th in the league in goals against all the way down to 18th, and significantly worsened an already bad goal differential. With only four points between them and the Tampa Bay Lightning (a team that should be better this season due to better health) there is not much margin for error there.

Predators marvel at Fiala’s ‘beautiful’ work in preseason win

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Confession: It was difficult to shake the memory of Kevin Fiala‘s frightening injury from the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. If you need a reminder of the scary moment that ended what seemed like a breakthrough run, the video can be seen above this headline.

Another confession: personally, there’s been some concern about how well Fiala can bounce back, at least early on. One of the distinguishing characteristics of the young forward is his blazing speed; what if that’s been taken away from him?

Now, scoring two goals in the Nashville Predators’ 5-3 preseason win against the Columbus Blue Jackets doesn’t mean Fiala will avoid missing a beat in 2017-18.

Forgive Predators fans for getting excited, anyway, especially with goals like these.

Wow.

Filip Forsberg got borderline-romantic about what Fiala did on Sunday, and again, can you really blame him?

Again, the true tests for both Fiala and the Predators begin in October. Still, it’s better to look impressive at this time of the year instead of to go in slow (or injured, as the unlucky St. Louis Blues seem to be doing).

Gaudreau, other NHL players approve of crackdown on slashing

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When slash after slash broke one of Johnny Gaudreau‘s fingers, he called it part of the game.

The Calgary Flames winger known as “Johnny Hockey” is one of the NHL’s most marketable players, so broken bones should be a problem.

Slashing has become such a regular element in NHL games that it necessitated 791 minor penalties last season with countless more going uncalled. Gaudreau’s broken finger and Marc Methot‘s lacerated pinkie brought enough attention to the issue that the league is taking a stronger stand on flagrant slashing this year to cut down on injuries and obstruction.

“I think it’s tough for the refs to make those calls in games: You don’t really know how bad a slash is,” said Gaudreau, who sat out two and a half weeks after surgery to repair a fractured finger on his left hand. “But if they can harp down or look at it a little more closely, I think it might cause a little less injuries. Guys won’t be missing substantial time. I think it’d be huge.”

It was impossible to ignore slashing when Sidney Crosby sliced Methot’s finger open during a game in March, forcing the defenseman to miss three weeks. No penalty was called, and Crosby didn’t receive any supplemental discipline.

After members of the league’s competition committee recommended a closer look at slashing, officials have been instructed that it’s OK to call it more this season. NHL director of officiating Stephen Walkom said the rise in slashing over the past decade came about after the stricter enforcement of hooking and holding following the 2004-05 lockout with players finding new tactics to slow the game down.

“Players started slashing in between the hands and on the hands, and the whacking became hacking became something that became the norm in the game,” Walkom said. “It’s time to have a stronger enforcement to let the players know what they can and can’t do. If you’re going to be whacking a player’s hands six, eight feet from the puck, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be penalized if it’s seen by the officials on the ice.”

So many slashing penalties were called in the first few preseason games that it was somewhat comical. Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere understands slashing but said he doesn’t know if it should be a penalty when no one knows why the whistle was blown.

Walkom sent a note reminding referees that the intent was to focus on slashes around the hands, not every time a player’s stick hits an opponent in the heavily-padded pants. Slashing at players’ hands will not only be an area of emphasis on the ice but also from the league office where new vice president of player safety George Parros is watching closely.

The former enforcer said slashes delivered with greater force or directed at players’ fingers will be met with fines and/or suspensions.

“We’re going to try and change player behavior,” Parros said. “We’re certainly trying to get rid of a pattern of a certain type of slash. If that’s like a harder slash on the fingertips as opposed to maybe in the elbow pad or something, that might be something we look at. And if it’s a pattern of a certain type of location slash or if it’s a pattern of a player, we’re going to look to eliminate both of those.”

Reducing unnecessary injuries is just one piece of this tighter enforcement. As with the crackdown on the hooking, holding and interference that mucked games up in the late 1990s and early 2000s, fewer slashes should open the ice up for offensive players at even-strength and potentially lead to more power plays.

“In some ways it’s going to put even bigger premium on getting body position and not being stuck in a position where you have to reach for a guy,” Carolina Hurricanes forward Jeff Skinner said. “Usually that’s a positive sign for getting more opportunities to produce.”

St. Louis Blues coach Mike Yeo said he already noticed players slashing less often a few games into the preseason. That’s one of the intended consequences of calling certain types of slashes more.

“The players are the smartest people in the game relative to the game and they will adjust because nobody wants to sit in the penalty box,” Walkom said. “A lot of it’s reflex and habit, but the players will break old habits with a consistent enforcement.”

Old habits die hard, but it’s easier than healing broken bones.

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SWhyno

For more AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Looks like Coyotes dodged a bullet with Oliver Ekman-Larsson

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The Arizona Coyotes’ defense really rose up the NHL ranks during this summer, but how impressive would that group look with star Oliver Ekman-Larsson out of the lineup?

There was fear that another Coyotes young blueliner would face a setback as far as knee injuries go, yet the news seems positive for “OEL.”

Coyotes GM John Chayka considers him day-to-day with a knee injury, and it doesn’t sound like there’s any structural damage.

No kidding.

In other Coyotes news, the team made Pierre-Olivier Joseph (the 23rd pick of the 2017 NHL Draft) one of their training camp cuts. So not all good news for prominent Coyotes with hyphenated names, although you could argue that POJ(?) might be better off receiving additional seasoning.

Donald Trump tweets about Penguins’ White House visit

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Earlier today, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced that they would accept an invitation to visit the White House. You can read all about that here, including the Penguins’ brief statement on the matter.

On a day in which NFL teams are drawing attention for how players (and owners) are acting during the national anthem, Donald Trump took a moment to confirm the Penguins’ visit, and also to praise them on Twitter.

Trump issued this tweet on the matter:

This came about four minutes after he addressed the NFL once again, finishing with this tweet:

While NHL players haven’t been as outspoken as athletes in other sports, there have been some reactions to Colin Kaepernick and the situation as a whole.

A year ago, Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said he would bench a player who sits during the anthem, something Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones stated was not a problem. Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Brown, however, did have an issue with Tortorella’s stance.

Of course, those comments surfaced about a year ago, so it’s plausible one or more of those opinions might be different, in either large or small ways, as of today.

Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler (one of the standouts of the 2010 U.S. Olympic men’s team) criticized Trump on Twitter last night:

The 2017-18 regular season kicks off on Oct. 4, so we’ll see if there are any larger protests or statements from teams and/or players.

For more on how this situation is playing out with other sports, check Pro Football Talk (including this post), Pro Basketball Talk (Mark Cuban’s comments are the latest there), Hardball Talk (noting that Bruce Maxwell became the first MLB player to kneel during the anthem), and other sites under the NBC umbrella.