After turning aside 45 shots in a 2-1 defeat of the Buffalo Sabres
on Thursday -- his fourth straight start -- Florida Panthers
goaltender Craig Anderson
has staked his claim to the team's No. 1 goalie job.
Coming into the season, most thought Tomas Vokoun
, a two-time NHL All-Star, was the unquestionable starting goalie for the Florida Panthers
. But after Vokoun lost five straight games and Anderson shined in limited duty, Panthers coach Peter DeBoer
was inclined to make a change.
After Vokoun yielded two goals in the first period against the New Jersey Devils
on Nov. 26, DeBoer turned to Anderson. The Panthers rallied to force overtime and Anderson didn't allow a goal until Devils defenseman Johnny Oduya
beat him for the game-winner in overtime. Still, DeBoer liked what he saw.
Anderson started the next two games, a home-and-home series against the New York Rangers
. With a considerable assists from Anderson, the Panthers got three of a possible four points. Florida dropped the first game in a shootout, but Anderson stood on his head, stopping 37 shots in a 4-0 shutout two days later.
He continued his strong play by beating the Washington Capitals
on Tuesday, and followed that with his defeat of the Sabres on Thursday.
"I think while some of the goals he allowed weren't great, he found us ways to get points in the last three games," DeBoer said after the second game against the Rangers. "After coming in off the bench against New Jersey and the start against New York, he gave up a couple goals you'd like to get back, but he found a way to get us points and that's the most important thing for us. You never know if you're right or wrong in those situations. We talked to our goaltending coach, Pierre Groulx, and he recommended we stay with Andy and it was the right decision."
Even Anderson, who leads the League with a .947 save percentage and is tied for third in the League with a 1.89 goals-against average, was surprised when DeBoer went with him for the second game against the Rangers.
"I thought he'd go back to Vokoun, but you have to be ready at all times," Anderson said. "I want the ball and I want to be playing. I enjoy playing and I enjoy playing for these guys. They stick with the program and I'll be ready whenever I'm called upon and hopefully it's as many games as possible."
DeBoer is a firm believer of going with the hot hand, and thanks to Anderson's play, the Panthers have jumped into a tie for ninth place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the No. 8 Carolina Hurricanes
. So it's likely Anderson will stay in the net for the forseeable future.
"He (Anderson) has given us good goaltending all year and we're at the point now where whoever is winning games and getting us points is going to play," DeBoer said. "He's done everything he can this year to keep us competitive and we have to rely on both of our goaltenders."
Anderson realizes that if he plays well he is going to get more starts.
"This game's funny and you have to be ready at all times," Anderson said after Sunday's game. "You see it all over the League, guys that are playing well are getting rewarded. You need to put the best guys on the ice to give the team a chance to win and right now it's clicking for me.
"It's a terrific feeling because the guys in front of me are coming together and playing well, so it's a credit to them. I'm just a small piece of the puzzle. There's no doubt in my mind that if Vokoun was in the net right now we would have won 4-0. It's a team game and I can't do this by myself. Without these guys in front of me I wouldn't have this success."
Anderson said splitting time with Vokoun has turned him into a better goalie.
"Playing two goalies often keeps guys fresh," Anderson said. "Tomas is well-rested and I'm well-rested when he's playing. It's enjoyable because it's everybody working together. Nobody is really doing anything by themselves and that's the terrific thing about this team game. Tomas and I work hard together. We push each other and we have a great relationship. When I'm playing he's cheering me on. He wants to get in there, but at the same time he's up for me. It's a healthy competition where he wants to one-up me and I want to stay in there and it's working out really well."
Anderson not only is competing with Vokoun, but he also attributes his improvement to what Vokoun has taught him.
"I learned to mirror his (Vokoun's) work ethic to be the best," Anderson said. "I learned a lot from his mental strength, which is second to none. Nothing fazes him. He's never too high when he makes a big save -- so what? He lets in a bad goal -- so what? He's ready for the next shot. He's always battling and he's a great guy to have around. … He's gone through a lot of the same things that I've gone through mentally."
"I thought he'd go back to Vokoun, but you have to be ready at all times. I want the ball and I want to be playing. I enjoy playing and I enjoy playing for these guys. They stick with the program and I'll be ready whenever I'm called upon and hopefully it's as many games as possible." -- Craig Anderson
While Anderson has learned much from Vokoun, the pair has different styles.
"Technically we're not really the same, but he's been in the League a long time," Anderson said. "I think I have a little wider butterfly than he does. I go down a lot more and he tends to stand on his feet a little bit more. I think just our stance and the way we move around the net is a little different. I prefer to be on my knees sliding across as opposed to being more upright like he is."
Right now, Anderson's winning style is all that matters to the Panthers.
Contact Adam Schwartz at email@example.com.