|Senators goaltender Craig Anderson took in his first full practice with the team today since his injury on Feb. 23 (Photo by Dale MacMillan/Getty Images).
can finally see the end in sight.
The Senators goaltender took part in a full practice with his Ottawa teammates earlier this afternoon at Scotiabank Place, offering the best sign yet that his return to the lineup is drawing ever closer. But the 30-year-old stopper, who's been sidelined for three weeks with a lacerated pinky finger on his right (stick) hand, isn't quite ready yet to declare himself game ready.
"Tomorrow is too early, for sure," Anderson said with an eye toward Friday's matchup with the Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). "This is the first day I'm seeing practice with the guys (and) I wouldn't want to put that on the team after only practising once with them after sitting for three weeks.
"You need more than just one day of practice to get back into the rhythm of NHL speed and shots. You need a few more days than just the one."
Earlier this week, Senators head coach Paul MacLean said he didn't expect to see Anderson back between the pipes at all this weekend — Ottawa also faces the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Place on Saturday evening (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) — and he continues to stand behind that assessment. But he is hopeful the team's No. 1 goaltender will see plenty of action before the Stanley Cup playoffs begin in early April.
"Of the 11 games we have left, we'd like to get him in as many as we can," said MacLean, who was heartened by Anderson's presence at practice today. "It looked like he enjoyed it, which was a real good sign. Now we have to see how he reacts to being on the ice for a 32-minute practice and we'll take it from there. It's real good progress."
Added Senators centre Jason Spezza
: "It's nice to see (Anderson) back on the ice. I'm sure he's encouraged to be back out there. Any time you're away from the boys, it's tough, so for him to get back out there ... mentally, it's a big hurdle for him to get over, to be around the guys and to get out there in your full gear and take some shots. He looked pretty good to me and it's a step in the right direction."
For his part, Anderson called it "a big uplifting experience" to be back on the ice facing shots from his teammates "instead of just having a coach shoot on you, and getting some real action." But he remains cautious about how close he is to a full recovery.
"I don't want to start speculating (about a return date)," he said. "I just don't know how it's going to feel tomorrow. It's getting a lot better every day, but to say it's going to be 100 per cent two days from now ... I can't really say that.
"It's getting there. Every day is a real process and every day ... as long as we keep getting better, that's all that really matters. We'll just have to wait and see how much better it gets tomorrow."
Clearly, it's a process that Anderson is working hard to accelerate as the days wind down in the regular season, which has just a little more than three weeks to go.
"We've been pushing the envelope pretty good every day and pushing it as far as we could," said Anderson, whose right hand is protected well enough to prevent reinjury of any kind. "We've got to make sure we get the proper recovery for it as well. I didn't use the hand for a couple of weeks, so there's a lot of strength issues that need to be resolved.
"It's coming back pretty rapidly, so hopefully it's not too much longer ... We've done as much as we can. It's always positive when things get closer to getting back to playing."
For the most part, the Senators have relied on two youngsters — Robin Lehner
and Ben Bishop
, who on Friday will make his fifth straight start — to carry the load with Anderson out. He's been heartened by the way the two have combined to hold the fort.
"Everyone has stepped up," said Anderson. "Any time there's an injury ... it gives an opportunity for other guys to step up, do the job and fill the role. We've done a terrific job all year long (as a team) in filling the role and done a real good job recently in finding ways to get two points."