Thursday, December 4, 2008

Auld's well, that ends well?

While I was in Vancouver, an impressive young goalie named Alex Auld, came into the NHL with the Canucks. After being taken in the second round of the 1999 Draft by Florida, his rights were traded to Vancouver, to become the Canuck's "goalie of the future". Unfortunately, another young puck stopper, Dan Cloutier, was having the best seasons of his career between the pipes. During the 2004 playoffs, Auld held his own against the Calgary Flames after a knee injury sidelined Cloutier. However, he was to be the odd man out in Vancouver, traded back to Florida with Todd Bertuzzi and Bryan Allen in the Roberto Luongo trade.

Even though he played in 67 games in 2005 for Vancouver, posting a 2.94 goals against average, and a .902 save percentage, Auld was relegated to backup in Florida behind Ed Belfour. A theme was developing... In Phoenix for the 2007-08 season, Auld had played in a handful of games, when Ilya Bryzgalov became available on the waiver wire. Auld spent time in the AHL with San Antonio until a trade to Boston had him packing again. Injuries to Manny Fernandez and Tim Thomas had left the Bruins short handed in net, and Auld stepped in admirably, until his own knee injury forced him to the sidelines. In 23 games with the Bruins, he had a solid 2.32 GAA and a .919 save percentage. He also set a personal best with almost 114 minutes of shut out hockey. At season's end, Fernandez and Thomas were recovered and Auld was on the move again, but this time via Free Agency.

Which brings us to the current 2008-09 season. Signed to a two year deal in Ottawa this summer, Auld was once again supposed to be the dependable backup to Martin Gerber. After the patience shown by Gerber last season during the Emery saga, it was assumed here in Ottawa, that the number one job would be his. It all looked good on paper, but the games are played on the ice, and a slow start by Gerber and the Senators placed the spotlight on Auld.

There have been many surprises in Ottawa so far this season, the biggest surprise has to be where the Senators sit in the Eastern Conference standings - 12th. A team expected to battle for the division title, or at the very least roll into the playoffs; the Senators struggled out of the gate and seemed lacking in confidence in their own end. A once high powered offence, Ottawa has found it difficult to find secondary scoring, and goals from the D-men are few and far between. As teams pass the quarter mark of the season, Ottawa is slowly beginning to resemble the Stanley Cup finalists they were only a few seasons ago. Hockey scouts, and hockey fans, will tell you it all starts between the pipes, and in Ottawa Auld is quickly becoming the "toast of the town." The new Senator net minder has a 1.96 GAA and a .927 save percentage in 17 games played going into Saturday's afternoon match up against Crosby, Malkin, and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Coming into the NHL, Auld was quick to go to his knees, and lacking in foot speed; he could be caught out of position. He has always had a great glove hand, and his tremendous size, at 6'4, he blocks a lot of net with his body, and pucks will often hit him. With time, comes experience, and Alex Auld has learned along the way. He has improved tremendously at covering his angles and being in the proper position for secondary saves. He's cool under pressure, and despite being the new number one goalie, he has a good working relationship and friendship with Gerber.

Wednesday versus the Thrashers, we witnessed a prime example of the new Auld. In the midst of two 5 on 3 penalty kills, during a goal mouth scramble, Auld found himself sitting on the ice - facing into the net. Instead of floundering on the ice, his 6'4 frame blocked a good portion of the net. Staying where he was, he made the save with his back. Ottawa would go on to expand their lead to finish a much needed 5-1 victory at home. As a hockey writer, but also as a fan, I'm glad Auld is getting another shot at being a number one goalie. Sens fans are hoping Auld's well, that ends well. Have a great sports day everyone.