There is, I think, something universal to be taken from Senators goalie Craig Anderson’s return to the team after a truncated personal leave to be with his wife Nicholle, who was recently diagnosed with cancer: When life gets hard, you can always lose yourself in your passion, or your work, and ideally the two are one and the same. As Sens captain Erik Karlsson put it after Anderson’s 2-0 shutout win in Edmonton, “each and every individual in here made sure he didn’t have anything else to think about.”
Anderson wasn’t supposed to be back in net, not for a while after he took a leave of absence on Thursday. The reason wasn’t given at the time, out of respect to his privacy, but when backup Andrew Hammond suffered a groin injury in Friday’s game and Ottawa announced Anderson would rejoin the team, they collectively agreed to publicize Nicholle’s cancer diagnosis, and the fact that his return was her idea.
“Given that they’re in a wait period and Andrew Hammond’s injury last night, Nicholle told Craig to phone me, which he did during the game. We talked to Craig after the game and it was determined that because they’re in a wait period and they were going to drive to Ottawa together as a family today that it would be all right for Craig to come and rejoin his team.
“She was the one that said, ‘Craig, your teammates need you right now.’”
Anderson was very good, making 37 saves against a potent Oilers offense that had won five in a row and was averaging 3.6 goals per game. The Senators did their job to make sure not too many of those shots were high-percentage ones, though Anderson made a big close-range save on Jordan Eberle midway through the third to preserve the win and the clean sheet.
And when it was all over, Anderson hung his head before being surrounded by his teammates:
“It really hit us approaching him on the ice because he broke down out there,” said defenseman Marc Methot. “I can only imagine what’s running through his head. The way he came out and performed, that’s a pretty brave thing do.”
Signs of support were everywhere: Coaching staffs on both benches wore purple “Hockey Fights Cancer” ties, and when Anderson was named the game’s first star, Oilers goalie Cam Talbot stayed out to give him a round of applause.
The Senators have called up a pair of goalies, Chris Driedger and Matt O’Connor, and said both will stay up because they’re not sure how long Anderson will remain with the team.