Hammond making history as Senators aim for playoffs
Wednesday, 03.18.2015 / 11:24 AM / NHL Insider By Adam Kimelman – NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
The transaction line came and went Jan. 29, like so many others do during the course of an 82-game NHL season.
The Ottawa Senators summoned a goaltender from the Binghamton Senators, their American Hockey League team, to hold down the backup spot behind Robin Lehner while starter Craig Anderson recovered from a hand injury.
Lehner started nine straight games; then came Feb. 16 at home against the Carolina Hurricanes. Late in the second period Lehner and forward Clarke MacArthur collided and Lehner sustained a concussion. That pressed into action the unknown minor-league goaltender; an undrafted 27-year-old with a 3.51 goals-against average and .898 save percentage in 25 AHL games. A goaltender who hadn’t seen a puck in a competitive environment since allowing four goals on 37 shots in a 5-2 loss to the St. John’s Ice Caps on Jan. 23.
The Senators were nine points behind the Boston Bruins for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference and were trending toward missing the postseason for a second straight season.
So expectations were pretty low when Andrew Hammond entered the net at Canadian Tire Centre.
A month later, Hammond has Hamburglared his way into one of the most remarkable stretches in NHL history.
“For the last 12, 13 games, he’s just been awesome,” Senators coach Dave Cameron said Tuesday, according to the Ottawa Sun.
Hammond, who allowed two goals on five shots in relief of Lehner that night against the Hurricanes, came full-circle by starting against them Tuesday. But rather than the unknown minor-leaguer, Hammond was the toast of the NHL and continued to put his mark on the League record book.
He made 35 saves as the Senators won 2-1, including a few of the highlight variety. His best came in the third period, when he went post-to-post to make a glove save on Jordan Staal with the Hurricanes on the power play and the score tied 1-1.
“I don’t know what to say,” Hammond said, according to the Ottawa Sun. “It’s just goaltending, really. Kind of trying to read what you think is going to happen … there’s really just two plays there. It’s either high, high glove, or big glove. When you’re kind of out of it a little bit you play the best-case scenario.”
Since replacing Lehner, almost all of Hammond’s decisions have been outstanding.
The win Tuesday improved his record to 11-0-1 in 12 starts, with a 1.35 GAA and .956 save percentage. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Hammond is the second goaltender in NHL history to allow two or fewer goals in each of his first 12 career NHL starts, tying the record set by Hockey Hall of Fame member Frank Brimsek of the Boston Bruins in the 1938-39 season.
Hammond is the first goaltender in the NHL to record a point in his first 12 NHL starts since the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Patrick Lalime went 14-0-2 in his first 16 starts in 1996-97.
“Did he finally break all the records?” Senators teammate Kyle Turris said Tuesday, according to the Ottawa Sun. “He’s on fire. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that.”
Hammond has faced an average of 29.9 shots per game, fewer on average than Anderson (32.3) or Lehner (31.2) has had to deal with. But Hammond has seen more higher-quality shots.
According to War-on-Ice.com, Hammond has faced an average of 11.2 medium- and high-danger shots per game at 5-on-5, compared to 11.0 for Lehner and 10.8 for Anderson. And of goaltenders to play more than 10 games, Hammond is the only one to have a save percentage of .940 or higher at 5-on-5 against low-danger (.973), medium-danger (.951) and high-danger (.944) shots.
The Senators have gone 12-1-1 since Feb. 18, Hammond’s first start, and are four points behind the Bruins for the final wild card with a game in hand headed into their home game Thursday against the Bruins.
Hammond’s rise to NHL stardom has been as interesting as his play. The White Rock, British Columbia native went undrafted and played four seasons at Bowling Green State University. He signed with the Senators on March 20, 2013, and got into one game last season, a 35-minute relief stint against the Detroit Red Wings in a game the Senators were losing 6-1.
* — indicates shootout loss
In college he earned the nickname “Hamburglar,” and he’s had the McDonald’s cartoon character painted on his goalie mask since then. As his star has been rising this season, fans began paying attention, and one lobbed a hamburger onto the ice after a 2-1 shootout win at home against the Philadelphia Flyers on March 15.
The publicity from the nickname, along with a phone call from John Bergeron, father of Hammond’s coach at Bowling Green and a McDonald’s restaurant owner in the Ottawa area, has led to Hammond earning a card guaranteeing him free McDonald’s for life.
“I guess at the end of the day I know I’ll never end up starving,” Hammond said after beating the Flyers. “If hockey doesn’t work out I’ll have a meal plan.”
With Anderson out for at least a week after aggravating his hand injury and Lehner not close to returning, the Senators need Hammond to be more than just a nice story if they want to continue their unlikely drive for a playoff spot.