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Auld relishes opportunity to carry ball for Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
With starter Craig Anderson sidelined by injury, Alex Auld is eager to seize the opportunity to carry the majority of the goaltending load for the Ottawa Senators (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

Over to you now, Alex Auld.

With No. 1 stopper Craig Anderson sidelined indefinitely by a right hand injury, it appears the Ottawa Senators plan to put the majority of their goaltending weight on the shoulders of the 31-year-old Auld, who's made just 13 previous appearances this season. But the veteran backup is eager and anxious to carry the load between the pipes for however long Anderson is out.

"It's my role. That's why I'm here," Auld told a horde of reporters following Senators practice earlier today at the Bell Sensplex. "I'm looking forward to it and I look at it as an opportunity. Craig is a huge part of our team and it's a tough loss, but I think we have a capable group and we're playing good hockey. We've just got to keep that going."

While top prospect Robin Lehner has also been summoned from the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League, it's Auld who's been tabbed for the starting role on Saturday, when the Northeast Division-leading Boston Bruins visit Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). The Senators also face the New York Islanders at home Sunday (5 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200), but head coach Paul MacLean hasn't decided yet whether he'll go with the 20-year-old Lehner in the second game of the back-to-back.

"We're going to try to do it the same way we've done it all year," said MacLean. "We'll evaluate who we're playing and, based on that, (decide) who gives us the best opportunity to win. It's like we've done it since Day 1."

General manager Bryan Murray confirmed today that Anderson sliced a tendon in the small finger of his right (stick) hand on Wednesday night while preparing a meal at home following the Senators' 5-2 victory over the Washington Capitals at Scotiabank Place. While he required surgery, the early predictions of the length of his absence — some reports suggested Anderson could be shelved for up to two months — didn't turn out to be anywhere near as dire.

"We were told (originally) it was going to be some period of time. Today, we got a little better news," Murray told reporters at the Bell Sensplex. "It’s a matter of when the stitches can heal up enough to (play). He can get back on the ice in a couple of days, the doctors said, so he can stay in shape and stay ready to play. It’s just a matter of when he can play ... There's no definite time frame at this point, but we're optimistic that it won't be a long, long time.

"It’s disappointing for us, but the good thing is we have a couple of other goaltenders who are capable professionals and that’s why we have them. We’ve got a real strong group of guys who have been playing hard and I’m sure they will rally in the short team and be able to do a real good job."

There is, however, no understating the importance of Anderson to the Senators this season. During the team's current four-game winning streak, he's allowed only four goals and recorded a pair of shutouts. For the season, Anderson is the National Hockey League's leader in appearances (56), shots faced (1,692) and saves (1,544), and ranks fourth in wins (29).

"It's not fun for Andy because he's playing pretty well," said Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson. "He's been rock solid all year and I really feel for him. Once you get into a groove, you want to keep going but hopefully, we'll be in a good position when he comes back."

The Senators don't intend to rein in their aggressive approach to the game without their No. 1 stopper. It's a style that has served them too well to this point to deviate from it now.

"We believe in the way we play," said Alfredsson. "The game is always about scoring one more goal than the other team. We try to be creative offensively and try to take calculated risks with our offensive game. We're going to keep doing the same. We have trust in the goalies we have, in Alex and in Robin as well. It'll be a challenge, but we've faced that all year long."

For his part, Auld doesn't intend to change his ways, either — even if his role has suddenly gained more prominence in light of current circumstances.

"I've maintained all year that I just want to stay sharp and ready for an opportunity, and I have one here in front of me," he said. "So I just want to make sure I keep the same focus that I've had and play the same way I've played lately. Just try to play a simple game and not try to be something I'm not. Just go out, be myself and play my game.

"I look at it as an opportunity, I don't look at it as pressure. Being a goalie in the NHL has its level of pressure already, I guess. It's a great situation for me. I'm going to get the opportunity to play and to play with a great team."

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