Thank you, Mike, for accepting the perils of a strange situation without hesitation. Thank you, for filling in for Craig Anderson without trying to replace him. Thank you, for not only keeping the Ottawa Senators afloat in the standings but for helping them become a playoff team. And most of all, thank you, for being the ultimate team player – stepping up when your number was called, making your teammates feel at ease and allowing Anderson to reclaim his role as the starter without objection.
Few players could have done the job you did, as well as you did and under the circumstances you were faced with, all without expecting something in return. But you did, wanting only an opportunity to prove yourself – something the Pittsburgh Penguins simply didn’t have the roster space to do – and to hopefully find a permanent home in the process.
When Opportunity Knocked
Since arriving in Ottawa – thanks to an unfortunate chain of events that saw Anderson leave the team to be with his wife during her battle with cancer, and his backup Andrew Hammond fall to injury immediately thereafter – you’ve been the rock the Sens have needed. If a 27-save shutout in your first game with your new team isn’t an omen, I don’t know what is.
Speaking of shutouts, you became the fastest in Senators franchise history to record five of them, accomplishing that feat in just 32 games. And winning, in general, became something of a habit for you in Ottawa, with 19 victories in 37 starts (and points in six others), some of those coming against such formidable opponents as the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets.
You were victorious not by playing above your pay grade, but by turning in consistently solid performances on a nightly basis and allowing Guy Boucher’s system to work its magic. It’s why your .916 save percentage, though not spectacular, is tied for 13th best among goalies with at least an equal number of starts to yours (for the record, that figure is better than the likes of Tuukka Rask and Henrik Lundqvist).
But more important than anything the numbers can say is the fact you didn’t waver at a time of such great uncertainty for the Senators. When you needed to make a big save (or many), or stem the tide while facing a barrage of shots or make that one, all-important stop with the game on the line, you answered the bell and then some.
And you did so knowing the starter’s job was not yours to take, that you would eventually have to concede that role to Anderson when he was finally able to return. Yet that never deterred you – or if it did, you never let it show – and instead you faced the challenge head on, knowing a playoff berth may be your only reward for taking on such a difficult task and doing it so well.
What Could Have Been
But let’s not let Anderson’s return overshadow your contributions which, at this point in the season, have been noted by multiple people any number of times, but can’t be overstated. To put it bluntly, without you the Sens aren’t a playoff team, and that fact is reflected no more so than in your streak of 27 consecutive appearances.
When you officially took the net as Ottawa’s temporary starter Dec. 1, the Sens were sitting pretty in second in the Atlantic Division and tied for third in the Eastern Conference. Not to be demeaning, but no one outside the organization had much hope of that success continuing with a guy taking the reigns whose most noteworthy accomplishment was replacing an injured Carey Price for a season.
With the benefit of hindsight, though, we can see pretty clearly just how wrong we were – all you did in those 27 appearances (25 starts) was go 13-8-5 with a .907 save percentage and three shutouts. What’s more impressive is you lost consecutive games in regulation only twice in that span, while putting together a tidy little four-game win streak.
And when Anderson made his triumphant return Feb. 11 in the form of a 33-save shutout, the Senators’ position in the division hadn’t changed – still second place, only three points further behind the Canadiens than before. General manager Pierre Dorion was just looking for a stopgap net, something to keep the Sens within striking distance of a wildcard spot at the very least, and he got so much more from you.
Here’s to the Future
This season isn’t quite over yet, with the postseason just under a week away from starting, but let’s take a look at 2017-18 and beyond. In today’s NHL, it’s not enough for a team to have a good starter and only a middling backup. Right now the Senators are in need of an upgrade for the oft-injured Hammond in the backup role.
You haven’t been shy about sharing your enjoyment of being in Ottawa, nor has the team (who could blame them, really?). So, a new contract would make perfect sense. Anderson’s getting older and with uncertainty abound regarding the post-Anderson era in the crease, the Sens need a backup who can play more and perform better than a traditional backup.
But before we get to that point, there’s still work to be done. The Senators are playoff bound, and we have you to thank for that.