Since their first season in the NHL in 1992-93, the Ottawa Senators have struggled to find an uncontested number one goalie. The team has seen some great performances, such as Ray Emery’s trip to the Stanley Cup Final or Andrew Hammond’s 20-1-2 rookie season, but neither goalie followed up their feats with sustained success and was out of the Senators’ organization soon after. Those that did stick around often struggled on bad teams, or never took over the starting role. Thankfully, the franchise hasn’t always struggled, thanks to Patrick Lalime and Craig Anderson.
Both goalies, despite playing with very different teams in front of them, are remarkably similar. They immediately stabilized a shaky crease and provided solid goaltending for nearly their whole tenure. They also are the only two goalies in the modern franchise to surpass 100 wins, record multiple 30+ win seasons, and rank one and two in playoff appearances. There is no question that Lalime and Anderson are two of the best goaltenders the Senators have ever seen.
Yet trying to separate the two netminders is surprisingly difficult and has created some debate as to who is the greatest Senators goalie. For years, Lalime held the title as the franchise’s leader in wins and games played, but was overtaken by Anderson on both fronts. Do the stats tell the whole story? Or is there more to the stories of Lalime’s and Anderson’s success with the Senators? This is a Senators’ showdown to finally determine the true champion of the crease.
Tale of the Tape
Lalime: 283 over 5 seasons
Anderson: 435 over 10 seasons
Regular Season Record with the Senators
Lalime: 146 wins, 100 losses, 30 ties, 30 shutouts, 0.908 save percentage
Anderson: 202 wins, 168 losses, 46 OT losses, 28 shutouts, 0.914 save percentage
Playoff Record with the Senators
Lalime: 41 games, 21 wins, 20 losses, 5 shutouts, 0.926 save percentage
Anderson: 46 games, 21 wins 18 losses, 3 shutouts, 0.928 save percentage
Arrival and Initial Impact
Although neither goalie began their careers with the Senators, both were acquired under similar circumstances and had similar expectations placed upon them. Both teams were on the verge of success, possessing some of the greatest talents the franchise had ever seen in Daniel Alfredsson and Erik Karlsson but needed a shakeup in net to take their talents to the next level. They even performed similarly on their arrival, but whose performance was more notable?
June 18, 1999: Senators Take a Risk on Lalime
Prior to the arrival of Lalime, the Senators’ crease was manned by the tandem of Ron Tugnutt and Damian Rhodes. While the duo provided some stability to the struggling expansion franchise and helped the team earn their first playoff berth, neither one was a starting goalie. Their best season came in 1998-99 when they both won 22 games and registered three shutouts each. They even almost played the exact number of games, with Rhodes starting two more games, although he did lose three more than his counterpart.
But the Senators were not interested in paying for two starting goalies, so they traded away Rhodes to the expansion Atlanta Thrashers and picked up a relatively unknown goalie from the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in Lalime. He had started his career with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1996-97, winning an incredible 14 games and tying two without recording a loss to start his rookie season. However, the 22-year-old was brought up as a replacement for the injured Tom Barrasso, and when he returned in 1997-98, Lalime was sent back to the minors. That embroiled the Penguins and their young phenom in a long contract negotiation that saw Lalime sitting out for part of the season.
Eager to be free of the headache, the Penguins sent Lalime to the Mighty Ducks in a minor deal in March of 1998, where he continued to toil in the minors. Five months later, he was on the move again, this time going to the Senators in a minor deal that saw veteran Ted Donato and the rights to Antti-Jussi Niemi go the other way. The Senators liked the potential of Lalime, but initially intended him to split duties with Tugnutt. Yet in his first game with the team, the season opener for 1999-00, Lalime recorded a shutout.
Despite playing fewer games than Tugnutt that season, Lalime had the better record, posting 19 wins (one more than Tugnutt’s 18), three shutouts, a 2.33 goals-against average (GAA), and a 0.905 save percentage (SV%). Ironically, the Senators traded Tugnutt for Barrasso in March 2000 and he finished the season as the starter, relegating Lalime to backup in the playoffs. But Barrasso decided to take some time out from hockey in 2000-01, finally leaving the young phenom as the de facto starter.
Feb 18, 2011: Senators Flip Goalies with the Colorado Avalanche
Despite being drafted in 1999, Anderson had yet to establish himself as an NHL regular by the 2008-09 season. He’d been part of four teams, yet only played 61 games. However, he’d shown that, if given a chance, he had the skill to compete for a starting job. In 2007-08 with the Florida Panthers, he had a 0.935 SV% over 17 games but was never able to usurp Thomas Vokoun for the starting job, and he was left to become a free agent in 2009. The Colorado Avalanche, who had two do good starting netminders, decided to take a chance on the career backup.
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With Anderson, the Avalanche got far more than they expected. After not having a goalie post a SV% above 0.900 in 2008-09, Anderson came out and played 71 games, winning 38 and posting seven shutouts, along with a 0.917 SV%. It was one of the best comeback stories seen in recent seasons, and although the Avalanche would lose in the first round of the playoffs, the team had performed far above expectations thanks to their new goalie.
In 2010-11, the Senators were in a similar situation to the 2008-09 Avalanche. After getting solid goaltending from Alex Auld and Brian Elliott the season prior, they had been unable to find any consistency, failing to win more than one game in the month of January. That prompted management to completely restructure, trading away several fan favourites and veterans, including sending away Elliott, who’d been serving as the starter, to the Avalanche for Anderson. Both were having sub-par seasons and the Senators hoped a change of scenery would help Anderson return to his 2008-09 form.
The Senators’ gamble paid off. With little help in front of him, Anderson went 11-5-1 after starting the season 13-15-3. He also recorded a 2.05 GAA and 0.939 SV%, the best stats by far of any Senators goalie. The team failed to make the playoffs, but it was clear that Anderson was going to be the future in net for the franchise.
While Lalime had more wins in his first season and helped the Senators reach the playoffs, Anderson had a more dominant start in his career with the team, clearly establishing himself as the starting goaltender. The Senators did acquire another goalie after trading for Anderson, but Curtis McElhinney was clearly intended to be a backup, whereas Barrasso was an attempt to take some of the load off Lalime. The first round goes to Anderson.
Best Season with the Senators
The Senators’ goaltending records are dominated by two names: Lalime and Anderson. Collectively, they have played the most games, recorded the most wins, faced the most shots, and have the best save percentages and goals-against average. But the numbers don’t show how truly dominant each goalie was at their height. To get a clearer understanding, we need to see them at their best.
The 2002-03 season was the best season for the Senators, with the team winning 52 games and racking up 113 points to secure first place in the NHL. As far as individual performances, Lalime truly stood out amongst the pack, appearing in 67 games and winning 39 of them, both franchise records. He also recorded eight shutouts, breaking his own record of seven set in his first two seasons with the Senators.
The only knock against Lalime’s impressive season is the team in front of him. Despite playing the most games of any Senators goalie in history, he doesn’t even crack the top-10 in shots faced, thanks to the incredible defensive presence of Zdeno Chara, Chris Phillips, Wade Redden and Anton Volchenkov. Yet in a team sport, everyone has a job to do, and Lalime most certainly pulled his weight as the Senators rolled through the competition to play in the Eastern Conference Final.
Anderson’s 2012-13 season could have been the greatest performance by a Senators goalie of all time, as he posted a 1.69 GAA and a 0.941 SV%. However, because the season was shortened by the lockout, he only played 24 games. His adjusted GAA is projected at 1.99, which would still be the best Senators’ goaltender performance, but because it is not official, we will use his second-best season with the team.
Anderson began the 2011-12 season as one of the best goalies in the league, and by mid-February, he had won 29 of 56 games. But he then went down with a serious hand injury and the Senators quickly acquired Ben Bishop from the St. Louis Blues to fill in. Anderson did return a month later and won four more games, ending his season with a 33-22-6 record, three shutouts, a 2.83 GAA and a 0.913 SV%. It was good enough to get the Senators into the playoffs, but they were eliminated in seven games by the New York Rangers.
There’s a lot of ‘what-ifs’ attached to Anderson’s best performances. What if he hadn’t missed a month in 2011-12, or the NHL hadn’t been shutout for half of the 2012-13 season? Would either campaign have seen Anderson break Lalime’s records? It’s impossible to say. So, until it officially is done, Lalime will hold the title of the best individual performance by a Senators goalie, and even the showdown to one apiece.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a different beast. No one truly knows what will happen in a seven-game series when the best hockey players in the world face off. Both Lalime and Anderson were able to propel their team to the Eastern Conference Final once during their time as Senators, and have made a similar number of playoff appearances. But who’s playoff runs were more impressive?
Lalime’s Shutout Record
In 2001-02, the Senators had just made it into the postseason as a seventh seed and now had to prepare to face the heavily-favoured Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the playoffs. The Flyers infamous line, nicknamed the Legion of Doom and featuring Eric Lindros, John Leclair and Mikael Renberg, had recently been broken up when Lindros signed with the Rangers, but he’d been replaced by the equally dominant Jeremy Roenick, and youngster Simon Gagne was proving to be a dangerous offensive force.
However, Lalime proved to be unbreakable, turning aside all but two shots on net and ending the five-game series with a 0.40 GAA and a 0.985 SV%, while also tying an NHL record with three consecutive shutouts. He added one more shutout against the Toronto Maple Leafs to open the second round, but the Maple Leafs bounced back to win the series in seven games. Still, Lalime remains tied for sixth with the likes of Terry Sawchuk and Ken Dryden for shutouts in a playoff season with four.
Anderson’s Playoff Run
Despite Anderson missing nearly half the season due to personal leave, the 2016-17 Senators finished the season in second place and in a good position to make some noise in the playoffs, despite having many doubters. In the first round, they faced off against the Boston Bruins, who had missed the playoffs for the past two seasons but still had much of their 2011 Stanley Cup-winning core. The series was tough fought, seeing three of the six games decided in overtime and one more in double-overtime, but the Senators were victories and ready to face their next opponent, the Rangers, in the second round.
Once again, the series was long and difficult for both teams and it saw another double-overtime game, plus another single overtime decision, but after six games, the Senators were victorious. Their next opponent was the Penguins, the defending Cup champions. Yet the Senators gave them a run for their money, pushing the series to a Game 7 that ended in double overtime with a goal by Chris Kunitz that snuck past Anderson. Although it was a tough loss, the fault could not be on their goalie, who’d played the second-highest minutes and faced the second-highest number of shots of any goalie that post-season. Ahead of him was the Nashville Predators’ Pekka Rinne, who only played an average of 1.85 more games and faced an additional nine shots, despite appearing in the Stanley Cup Final.
Despite playing more games, Anderson has almost the exact same record as Lalime minus the incredible shutout run. There was hardly a better playoff performer in Senators’ history than Lalime and had they not continued to run into the Maple Leafs, Lalime may also have won a Stanley Cup, as there were few more dominant teams in the early 2000s than the Senators. Lalime takes the lead 2-1 over Anderson.
Accolades and Awards
Although he never won an individual award, his 2002-03 season helped claim the Presidents’ Trophy for the best regular-season record and saw him selected to the NHL All-Star team. However, it was only because Ed Belfour pulled out due to an injury that he was asked to attend. He was joined by teammates Chara and Marian Hossa, as well as coach Claude Julien. Nikolai Khabibulin was chosen to start, but Lalime got his shot in the second period and remained in net for overtime. He allowed just one goal in regulation but allowed three in the shootout to give the Western Conference the win.
Twice in his carer, in 2012-13 and 2016-17, Anderson was given some consideration for the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender after hot starts. However, on both occasions, external forces prevented him from claiming the prize. Yet in 2016-17, he did receive an award, becoming the first Senator to receive the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for dedication to the game of hockey.
Early in the season, Anderson’s wife, Nicole, was diagnosed with throat cancer. During the challenging time, the Senators’ goalie decided to take some time away from hockey, helping his wife and family through her treatment. He wouldn’t return to the ice for 10 weeks, but when he finally stepped back into the crease, he stunned the New York Islanders with a 33-save shutout. Anderson would finish the season with a 25-11-4 record with a 0.926 SV%. Better yet, Nicole was declared cancer-free in May 2017.
There’s really no contest. Despite Lalime’s talents, he was never considered for an award and made only a single All-Star appearance, thanks largely to the talent he was up against. Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Ed Belfour and many others often stole the spotlight while Lalime toiled thanklessly for the Senators. Anderson, however, was able to capture the hearts of fans and owners alike when he returned to the NHL after helping his wife. It is truly an inspiring story of his talent and dedication to not only the game but his family. Anderson ties it up in the last minute, 2-2.
Despite beginning their careers with the Senators similarly, Lalime and Anderson ended their time with the team in very different fashions. And often, a player’s career is judged not on their best moments, but on their worst. Although Anderson has not hung up his skates, it’s likely the 38-year-old’s career is nearing the end, so let’s see how the two goalies aged.
Lalime Replaced with Little Fanfare
After an incredible 2002-03 season, Lalime struggled in 2003-04, posting his lowest win total in three seasons with 25 wins over 57 games. He followed it up with a disappointing performance against the Maple Leafs in the first round, allowing several soft goals, and the Senators lost in seven games. With little motivation to give him a raise when his contract expired that July, the Senators decided to dump Lalime’s salary in the off-season to the St. Louis Blues for a fourth-round pick at the 2005 draft, which was used on Ilya Zubov. With the extra money, they heavily pursued unrestricted-free-agent Dominik Hasek, who signed with the team shortly after.
Five seasons seemed too soon to say goodbye to the best goalie the Senators had ever seen, but the shaky playoff showing to divisional rivals had worn out Lalime’s welcome in Ottawa. After the trade to the Blues, he would play for the Chicago Blackhawks and Buffalo Sabres mainly as a backup before retiring in 2011 and becoming a TV analyst.
He would be most fondly remembered for his 2003 trip to the Conference Final, as well as his unique goal mask, which always featured Marvin the Martian.
Anderson is Left to Free Agency
After 10 seasons and over 400 games, Anderson now firmly holds the record as the Senators’ longest-serving goalie. However, six seasons into his time with the team, the team began to fall apart and a total rebuild was implemented. Nearly every veteran was traded away for picks and prospects, yet Anderson remained. He reportedly asked for a trade in 2018, but then expressed that he “was too old for drama” and was perfectly happy to stay in the city.
His longevity has made him a fan favourite with a team that has difficulty holding onto star players, and he’s paid tribute to the city and history on his many masks. He’s featured the late Senators’ general manager Bryan Murray as well as Daniel Alfredsson and Lalime’s famous cartoon mask. But the partnership couldn’t last forever, and with his contract up at the end of the 2019-20 season, the Senators chose not to re-sign him, instead acquiring the much younger Matt Murray from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Anderson signed with the Washington Capitals for league minimum, but at 39 years old, he likely doesn’t have much gas left in the tank.
Showdown Winner: Anderson
Although Lalime was the first great Senators goalie of the modern era, Anderson is the new holder of the title. Both goalies performed excellently when called upon, but Anderson’s longevity and personality have endeared him to Senators fans and management.
In a small market that can’t afford to spend much on star players, they have found a way, for better or worse, to keep Anderson around, a testament to his impact on the team. While he may not have the winningest season or shutout records, Anderson established himself as the best Senators goalie.
An elementary teacher by day and an avid hockey fan, Dayton joined The Hockey Writers in 2019 and currently covers the Ottawa Senators, World Juniors, and NHL Entry Draft.