There is no truth to the rumour that the Ottawa Senators are going to rotate the goalie gear around the room, for a different player to try the position each game.
This is the NHL, not a minor hockey Initiation Program.
Nevertheless, it might be an idea.
During the pandemic, NHL teams have taxi squads of reserves to fill in at forward, defence and yes, in goal. With their track record in 2021, the Senators need a separate goalie taxi squad. Just getting through the pre-game warmup tends to require a couple of goalies for Ottawa.
The Senators have used five goalies in this shortened season and have had as many as four injured at any one time. These are their names -- Matt Murray, Anton Forsberg, Marcus Hogberg, Joey Daccord, Filip Gustavsson, but they also go by AWH -- Accident Waiting to Happen.
Murray and Forsberg both went down with injuries Saturday night in Vancouver. Daccord is out for the season. Gustavsson was scripted to remain with Belleville to play AHL games, but that just changed in a hurry.
Things got so bad against the Canucks on Saturday that centre Artem Anisimov, aka good ol’ Arty, actually came down from the stands where he was perched as a healthy scratch, and put on the goalie pads while the real goalies fell like tin soldiers -- Forsberg in the warmup and Murray during the second period of a game he was not supposed to be in.
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) April 25, 2021
Anisimov could have been Ottawa’s answer to David Ayres, the Toronto Zamboni driver and beer league goaler who was rushed into emergency action by the Carolina Hurricanes, only to famously beat the Toronto Maple Leafs on a Hockey Night In Canada broadcast.
Alas, no such glory for Anisimov. Just points for being willing.
“To see him (Anisimov) dressed up, it was pretty funny,” said Senators defenceman Thomas Chabot. “But I mean it’s good on him, good for Arty being ready to play goalie in case we needed him.”
As it was, lucky for Ottawa that the NHL has a pandemic-inspired rule of mandating three goalies available on a game day. Hogberg, who started the day on the taxi squad, was able to step in, stay in, and played well in a 4-2 loss that included an empty net goal by Vancouver.
Head coach D.J. Smith said there were few other options beyond Anisimov. Goaltender coach Zac Bierk is too banged up from his playing career, Smith quipped, adding that general manager Pierre Dorion “played some net at the Christmas skate a couple of years ago.
“We were mulling that over.”
Murray done for season?
The update on Murray was not great news. Smith said after the morning skate that while Forsberg will be re-evaluated on Tuesday, Murray could be “a little bit longer.”
Smith couldn’t even confirm that Murray will play another game this season. Ottawa’s last regular season game is May 12. In fact, the coach sounded doubtful. Why risk further injury?
“It’s up in the air at this point,” Smith said. “We’ll wait on the trainers to see what the deal is there.”
When the laughter over the goal calamity subsides, the Senators might be just a little concerned about Murray’s ability to stay healthy. Forget the other goalies for now, Murray is the team’s anointed starter and projected No. 1 as the Senators grow into a contender. He was handed a four-year, $25 million contract before the season began.
And yet, Murray has already missed an extended stretch of games in 2021 due to an upper-body injury, after a series of inconsistent games that led Ottawa management to fire and then re-assign goalie coach Pierre Groulx. Now, Murray is down with a lower-body injury after a crease collision in Vancouver.
It has to be frustrating for the Senators that Murray had just rediscovered his game only to get hurt again. Following a long rough patch, and then injury rehab and a technical reset with Bierk, Murray had won three of his four starts since returning to action April 14 vs Winnipeg. Those three consecutive wins included two shutouts, the first by Murray with the Senators and the first experienced by Smith as Ottawa’s head coach.
“It is unfortunate,” Smith said. “We wanted this runway to get his game back. We saw some glimpses there. Two shutouts. Down the stretch here, it’s a shame he’s not a part of it going forward. Again, it’s an opportunity for somebody else.”
On the season, Murray has been in 27 of Ottawa’s 48 games and has a record of 10-13-1 with a 3.38 goals-against and .893 save percentage.
If these injuries were the only mishaps for the 26-year-old in his career, they could be dismissed. But Murray had a history of injuries in Pittsburgh before being traded to Ottawa. Among the litany of hurts that kept him out of action were a couple of concussions, multiple lower-body injuries, an upper-body injury and a broken hand suffered at the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.
The optimistic view is that he may be due for better health down the road.
The flip side is that Murray is going to get dinged up and Ottawa better have a capable backup ready at all times. Not to mention the backup to the backup.
Hogberg will get the start against the Canucks on Monday at the Canadian Tire Centre.
Gustavsson was recalled from Belleville to back up Hogberg and Kevin Mandolese was also recalled to join the Senators’ taxi squad.
As always, Anisimov will be standing by as a fourth goalie.
Just in case.