NHL Analysis: Craig Anderson’s Poor Net Play and Post Coverage
There is no question that Craig Anderson is still a starting goaltender in the NHL, but his statistical drop off from last season to this season is enough to raise some eyebrows.
He was tremendous in 2013, despite playing in only 24 games in the lockout-shortened season. He lead the entire league with a .941 save percentage, and had a sparkling goals against average of 1.69. It may have been a bit of an anomaly, though. This year his numbers have come back down and have dropped well below his career average, and the league average.
Consistency has always been a problem for Anderson. Senators fans know very well how he can play fantastic one night, but do the exact opposite in his next game. Having super-prospect Robin Lehner breathing down his neck (and playing well) is certainly not helping settle his nerves.
Although Anderson’s save percentage sits at .909 this season, it is being greatly reduced due to his performance on the penalty kill. Almost all goalies see a reduction in save percentage while on the penalty kill, but Anderson’s drops all the way down to .833. By far the worst in the entire NHL.
His even strength save percentage is actually quite fantastic, coming in at .925. Some may look at that and assume that the Senators just have a poor penalty kill, and it is affecting their goaltender. That is not the case, as the Senators are sitting tied for 17th in the league on the penalty kill – at 81.0%. Robin Lehner is performing quite well, as his save percentage is .916 during penalty kills. The Senators are still relatively successful despite Anderson’s poor performance on penalty kills.
What could be causing this inconsistency? It comes down to two things: Poor net play habits and weak post coverage on plays down low in the crease. They are the type of plays that you would likely see from powerplay units that try to overload the front of the net. Shots from in close are much more frequent during penalty kills, and while Lehner became a master of the reverse-VH technique to quell most of those chances, Anderson has definitely not done the same.
Here is one example from the Senators 3-2 victory against the Buffalo Sabres this past Thursday.
While on a penalty kill, the puck gets passed to the goal line to Anderson’s glove side. Instead of tracking the puck hard and sliding hard into his post to cover the short side, he pulls his body weight away from the puck in order to bring his left leg up straight against the post – pulling himself into a traditional VH position.
A Senators defenceman has sprawled out to block a possible pass, so Tyler Ennis takes his only option and tries jamming it through Anderson. This is a very scary situation for a goaltender. When you are caught in the VH position during a jam attempt there is no limit to the amount of things that can go wrong.
Anderson’s left leg is loaded on the post and is ready to push out into the slot on a possible pass out front, but that pass never came. Instead, the entire left side of his body has been rendered useless. There are also holes over his shoulder, in his five hole, and along the ice where his left skate is. He has no ability to go into a full butterfly, or to bring the paddle of his stick down to take away the bottom half of the net. He weakly swipes at the puck – it is a completely helpless situation.
The Senators are very lucky that a goal was not scored on this particular penalty kill. Anderson escaped this situation, but it will keep happening unless he changes the way he tracks the puck down low. He may not be as lucky next time.
Tyler Ennis would get his revenge later in the game on another shot that Anderson could have played differently.
Drew Stafford attempts to jam the puck through Anderson on his glove side, once again. Instead of pushing towards the puck, he is falling away from the puck and merely dangling his leg out to try and take away the bottom half of the net. He is not balanced.
His lack of balance gets exposed when Stafford is able to carry the puck behind the net, and pass it out the other side. Anderson recovers with his right leg, the improper leg, and ends up wildly flailing towards Ennis as he takes the shot into the wide open net.
If Anderson kept his balance down and towards the direction of the puck, it would have been much easier for him to push into his glove side post, lift his left leg once Stafford started the wraparound, and push over to his blocker side post when Stafford passed it out front. It still would have been a tough save to make, but he would have had much better body position on the play and could have avoided disaster.
Craig Anderson has always been a tremendous athlete, and is still only 32 years old. Some technical adjustments need to be made, but there is no reason for such a drop off in his quality of play. He is being exposed right now, especially while on the penalty kill, but it is for things that are fixable. Robin Lehner is fantastic during net play sequences, so Anderson may have to rely on his young backup as a mentor for these types of saves.
Greg Balloch is an on-air analyst, writer and Vancouver Canucks reporter for Sportstalk on AM 650 based out of Richmond, British Columbia. He was previously an instructor for Grainger Minard Goaltending Development in Hamilton, Ontario and now teaches for Pro4 Sports in Vancouver. For more information on Pro4’s goaltender training programs, you can visit their website here.
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