Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sometimes The Chase Is Better Than The Catch

If most fans had their way, winning would be easy. Their teams would cruise through the regular season without drama, knocking off opponents one by one with precision and confidence.

Not me.

I like the rocky roads along the way. I like the struggle, as long as it’s a true struggle and not a white-flag waving surrender. I like the theatrics, the blood, the frustrations, the crisis moments and the last-minute heroics that force columnists to rewrite entire columns half an hour before deadline. Who likes watching movies where the good guys cruise around unscathed? Rocky even lost in the first one, right?

As a regular watcher of these Ottawa Senators, last night’s up and down affair with the Flyers was exactly what I was looking for in a hockey game. Most of that was personified in embattled goalie Craig Anderson.

Not many fans have his back anymore. In fact, most have knives to it. That’s natural of course. Goalies take the most heat when things go badly and take the most praises when it’s going well. Anderson is going through a stretch where everything seems to be broken and the fans suddenly think he’s not good enough to play for the Cornwall Aces.

Just watching the body language on Anderson the past few weeks has been intriguing. He’s not stupid. He knows that people are crying for Robin Lehner to take over in net, the hockey equivalent of unblemished, fresh fruit. Anderson has a Twitter account and he likely gets the odd tweet from an expert telling him to go for a skate on the canal - in October. You can tell he’s fighting everybody in his head, as every goalie has to do their whole career. It’s the curse of the profession.

Only the hockey gods were to blame for the two quick goals he let in during the second period that allowed the Flyers to both tie and then take the lead when it seemed Ottawa was finally getting it all together – offensively, defensively, physically. Both were deflected through a series of black and orange sweaters and Anderson looked like he wanted to throw down his stick, take the net, turn it around and push it flat against the boards, daring anyone to try and score on that.

Suddenly it seemed like the whole season was finally slipping away. That’s not hyperbole but a real statistical fact when you looked at the standings. Things looked bleak before the Flyers game but another loss at home would have been too much, especially one in which they were playing well and had the lead.

Philadelphia came on even stronger in the third with 11 shots and Anderson was again battling himself. Ottawa took back the lead but Kimmo Timonen’s floater from the point went by Anderson undeflected. It was almost too much for some people to handle. They were writing Anderson’s epitaph on Twitter. I’m sure some columnists were too. They’d seen enough.

It was then that the best moments of Anderson’s season happened. He started it by making a Statue Of Liberty save on Jakub Voracek to keep the game tied. Then with about 45 seconds left in the period, he almost impossibly turned back two Claude Giroux shots, the first with a darting pad save and the second with a dive across the crease like Dominik Hasek playing for Teddy Nolan in 1997.

The crowd was out of beer but they were standing and putting their hands on their face in disbelief. The narrative was starting to skew. But then the shootout loomed and the naysayers came out again with force. A sense of doom hung over the proceedings because everyone knew the Senators couldn’t score and Anderson couldn’t save a beachball bouncing from centre ice if it was the shootout.

Anderson stopped the first two and Coach MacLean changed up the shooters on his side but both Bobby Ryan and Clarke MacArthur couldn’t get it done either. What it essentially boiled down to, just like all of this year’s failed attempts to win the shootout, was Anderson and Jason Spezza.

The pressure on Spezza was enormous as well, because as captain, he’s expected to do something with the game on the line. He looked terrible in past shootouts this year but this one felt different the moment he took the puck at centre. He went straight in but pulled out every deke in his black book and slid it calmly by Steve Mason. It was a big moment for the captain but Anderson absolutely had to stop Sean Couturier from scoring. Again, it felt like something big depended on it. Not just the game, but his reputation. Those brilliant saves in the third period would have been forgotten if Anderson folded in the ultimate moment.

What happened was Couturier hit the post. That was unexpected. In my head I was thinking either a massive save or heartbreaking goal. You could hear the clang so clearly because nobody in the building was breathing. Even Anderson seemed shocked. He looked back, as if the clang wasn’t enough to convince him he just survived another tightrope walk. Then he half-jumped, half-fist pumped like a guy who forgot how to celebrate.

For drama, it was right up there with any game this season so far, excepting the Daniel Alfredsson games of course. A clanging goal post isn’t exactly a season defining or Hollywood moment, and in twenty games it may mean nothing anyways, but for one night, one hockey game, we got exactly what we came for.

As Lemmy once said, “The chase is better than the catch.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hockey gods must have made Andy allow two goals on four shots last Saturday as well.

And in this case, having a playoff spot locked down in February or March means you can rest your stars for a potentially long playoff run. With the Sens five points out of the last wildcard, they don't have that luxury.