by PuckStopsHere on 03/30/13 at 04:05 PM ET
A look at the saves percentage leaders so far this season shows an Ottawa Senator holds down both the first and second positions in the league. Craig Anderson is posting a .952 saves percentage and a 1.49 GAA. He has been on the injured list with a high ankle sprain for over a month but those numbers are so impressive he is still my pick for the Vezina Trophy. The second leading saves percentage belongs to teammate Ben Bishop who is posting a .928 saves percentage and a 2.32 GAA.
Neither of these goalies is considered to be a true NHL star. Anderson is a useable NHL starter who is capable of having a significant hot streak but he has never finished a season as a serious Vezina candidate. At age 31 it is reasonable to wonder if he ever will. Ben Bishop had played 23 NHL games over three partial seasons before this season began. In 2012 he was traded to Ottawa for a second round pick because he showed some potential but had yet to show it in the NHL. So far this season he has proved to be worth it.
It isn't a coincidence that both of the top goalies by saves percentage are teammates. They have something in common. They play behind the same defence. The Ottawa defence has allowed the fewest goals against this season. This is a surprise given that they were 24th in goals against last season. What has changed?
Largely the frontline personnel have changed in Ottawa. By ice time Sergei Gonchar, Marc Methot and Chris Phillips hold down the top three positions respectively. At forward, Kyle Turris, Daniel Alfredsson, Jakob Silfverberg and Zach Smith have been the leaders. Only Gonchar and Phillips remain among the top seven in ice time from last season. These two are proven to be strong defensively. Phillips has always been strong in his own zone and Gonchar has developed some skills as he has matured in his career. Among the newcomers, Alfredsson is a veteran who has always played well defensively and the others are younger players who are willing to work hard in Paul MacLean's high octane system.
Ottawa plays a high tempo style where they aggressively check their opposition as much as possible when they don't have the puck. This has done a lot to remove high percentage shots by their opposition and force them into low percentage shooting situations. They haven't been able to remove the shots against. In fact Ottawa is third worst in the league by shots against. Corsi analysis will tell you that this has been unsustainable and it probably is. Thus far the Sens have succeeded by playing this style despite significant injury.
It is a given that in a shortened season we will see some significant streaky runs that significantly change the standings and Ottawa looks like one of the more blatant examples so far this year. Their defence has looked very good because they have limited the shot quality against. This is not a strategy that teams have been able to sustain over the longterm ever since such stats exist to check. In the meantime it has made both Ottawa goalies look very good. They have played well but their circumstances have made them look even better. It will be interesting to see how the situation develops over the rest of the season.
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