Sens’ Injuries Force Anisimov Into Backup Goalie Role

The carousel of goaltenders continues for the Ottawa Senators, as no one seems to be able to stay healthy.

Just when it looked like veteran Matt Murray had turned his game around and was coming off one of the best four-game stretches of his career, both he and backup Anton Forsberg went down to injuries in Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the Vancouver Canucks.

In fact, things got so desperate for Ottawa that centre Artem Anisimov, who made the road trip to the west coast as part of the Senators’ taxi squad, actually geared up and was backing up Marcus Hogberg in the third period. Hogberg began the day on the Sens’ taxi squad but was activated before the game when Forsberg, the scheduled starter, suffered an injury.

Matt Murray Ottawa Senators
Matt Murray, Ottawa Senators (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“It was very unfortunate,” Senators coach D.J. Smith said after the game in a media Zoom conference. “(Anton) Forsberg was scheduled to start, got hurt warming up, and then (Matt) Murray goes in, and he got hurt, and then we were down to Hoggy. Things happen in the NHL and you’ve got to adjust.”

The Senators entered the 2020-21 NHL season blessed with depth at the goaltending position. The problem they thought they would face was how they would find a place for everyone to play. But then Murray and Hogberg, who both struggled early in the season, were injured. Joey Daccord was called up and played very well, but then he suffered a season-ending injury. Filip Gustavsson looked good and had the best numbers of all Ottawa goalies in his four games with the Senators. The Senators were able to pick up veteran Anton Forsberg off waivers from the Winnipeg Jets, and he played well.

Filip Gustavsson Ottawa Senators
Filip Gustavsson, Ottawa Senators (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Forsberg and Gustavsson gave the Senators the best goaltending they had all season until Murray’s recent four-game hot streak. In six games, Forsberg had a .910 save percentage (SV%) and a 3.18 goals against average (GAA). Gustavsson, in four games, had a .946 SV% and a 1.81 GAA. They ranked in the top two of all Senators goalies this season.

If Hogberg had gone down, Anisimov would have been the sixth goalie to play for the team. In the past, the NHL had mandated that there was a designated goalie supplied by the home team. On Feb. 20, 2020, emergency backup David Ayres became a hockey legend as he suited up for the Carolina Hurricanes to finish a game and pick up a win against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Florida Panthers assistant coach Rob Tollas was pressed into emergency backup service for the Florida Panthers on two different occasions in 2013. A former NHL goalie, Tollas did not get pressed into action. The last time the Senators had an emergency goalie suited up as a backup happened on the day that Brian Elliott was traded for Colorado Avalanche goalie Craig Anderson. Pascal Leclaire, who had already played his final NHL game with Ottawa, suited up to begin the Senators’ game as the backup that night. Anderson arrived in Ottawa from Denver late in the first period, introduced himself to his teammates during the intermission and relieved Leclaire from his backup duties for the second and third periods.

The Arty Party Dons the Gear

On Saturday night in Vancouver, Animisov suited up after the second period. Not only could he have been the sixth goalie to see action for the Senators this season, but he would also have been the first position player to tend goal in an NHL game in 61 years. In 1960, Boston Bruins right winger Jerry Toppazzini strapped on the pads and got in goal for the final 30 seconds of a game against the Chicago Blackhawks in Chicago after Bruins goalie Don Simmons was injured.

“We had Arty dressed and ready to go,” Smith said of Anisimov. “We didn’t have anyone left. A lot of people would think Zac Bierk, the goalie coach who played in the NHL, but (he had) three hip surgeries and a bad ear from a shot in the head as a player, so he’s not an option. So we didn’t really have anyone left. (Senators GM) Pierre Dorion played some net at the Christmas skate a couple years ago, and we were mulling that over. But Arty had the gear on and he was ready to go in.”

Artem Anisimov Ottawa Senators
Artem Anisimov, Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Senators expected to give Murray the net for most of the rest of the 2020-21 season. Given the fact that he has already had injury problems this year, one would think they would exercise caution to make sure he is 100 percent healthy for next season.

Thomas Chabot told the media after the game that seeing Anisimov suited up loosened up the locker room. “To see him dressed up, it was pretty funny,” Chabot said. “The guys definitely had a good little laugh at it, but I mean it’s good on him, good for Arty being ready to play goalie in case we needed him.”

Colin White was asked by the media where opponents would shoot against the 6-foot-4 Anisimov. “Anywhere, I would think,” deadpanned White.

The Senators still have six games left to play in the 2020-21 regular season. Hopefully, they will have enough goalies on the roster to make it to the end.

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