|Washington Capitals' Mike Green falls in front of the net past Ottawa Senators' Pascal Leclaire. (REUTERS/Richard Clement)
Overall, he's looked sharp, focused, quick ... better than he did all last season.
One untimely Alex Ovechkin shot aside, Pascal Leclaire has been exactly what the Senators need him to be. And if Cory Clouston doesn't start Leclaire Thursday against the Hurricanes, it could very well be his first mishandling of Senators goalies since March 4 in Carolina, when Leclaire, making his first start in two months, was inappropriately pulled after giving up two goals on five shots, neither of which were his fault.
Leclaire's confidence never recovered from that whipping.
No, goaltending has not been the reason for Ottawa's stutter start to the 2010-11 campaign. The problem has been at the other end of the rink. Through three games, the Senators have four goals. Their leading scorers are third-liners Jarkko Ruutu and Chris Neil, both of whom are paid more for their grit than their snipe.
Yet Ruutu (one goal, one assist) and Neil (two assists) are the only Senators with more than one point.
This isn't the first time Ruutu -- who established a career high in points last season with 26 -- has jumped off to a fast start. As a Penguin, he scored two points in Game 1 of the 2006-07 season.
"So that was (on pace for) 164," he cracked Wednesday. "But I didn't make it, which was kind of disturbing for me."
Ruutu finished that campaign with 16 points.
So, does he have a reasonable shot at 100 this season?
"Yeah," Ruutu deadpanned. "I put a lot of pressure on myself."
In all seriousness, the Ruutu-Chris Kelly-Neil line has been Ottawa's most consistent unit, just as it was through much of last season. Ruutu says there's lots to be said for the cohesiveness that comes with staying together.
"When you know the guys, their strengths, and you get in a certain rhythm, it helps," he said. "I think it's the chemistry, when you have to think the game in the same way. If you throw three guys out there that think different, you're not ever going to hit the chemistry."
Ruutu, Kelly and Neil are less concerned with personal stats than with scoring points for the system, for the greater good. Their game is cycling, hitting, creating turnovers. If something else comes from them, it's a bonus.
"The only thing that really matters is how many points the team has," said Ruutu. "Obviously you want to score, chip in offensively, but in the end, the only thing that really matters is making the playoffs. Once playoffs start, there's no stats."
Ten Senators have yet to register a point. Four (Mike Fisher, Alex Kovalev, Milan Michalek and Nick Foligno) are regulars on the top two lines. Three others (Erik Karlsson, Chris Phillips, Chris Campoli) are among the Top 4 blueliners.
"Pazzy (Leclaire) has been our best player in the first three games," said Jason Spezza, who has one goal. "We've got to play better for him, in front of him. Give him a little bit of run support. but he's played real well,
"It's three games," Spezza added, in defence of the offence. "Let's not get too carried away. We've got to score goals, and everything gets analyzed, but the goals will come."
They better hurry up and get here.
WHO'S ON FOURTH?
The braintrust thinks it might be on to something, uniting Alex Kovalev, Peter Regin and Ryan Shannon. On paper, it would appear to be the new fourth line, but coach Cory Clouston and GM Bryan Murray thought it was the Senators' best in Washington. Shannon and Regin led the team with five shots on goal, while Shannon sent the game into OT with his first goal, in his first game. In some corners, meanwhile, Kovalev is being held responsible for helping the other two raise their game. "You guys can call it whatever line you want and that's fine," said Clouston. "Yeah, he might go fourth in turn. But his minutes were not fourth-line minutes. I thought that line was one of our best lines the other night. They created offensive opportunities. Alex had two point-blank chances. I thought that line was really good, and he was part of it. If you asked me that question a game ago, I wouldn't have been able to say a whole lot of positives, but that's the same with everybody else. We didn't have a lot of positives."
A BAD SIGN
While the rest of the hockey world discusses the obscene gesture the Islanders' James Wisniewski made toward Rangers pest Sean Avery, Neil has heard worse. "Who knows what Avery said to him to start the whole thing," said Neil. "I don't think Wisniewski is a guy that's normally like that, first-time offender, but there's other stuff out there that's worse than that, for sure." Players are shown videos during training camp of gestures they cannot make, the throat slash being one of them. Another will now no doubt be added to the list. "I probably seen it along the way somewhere, but maybe not as long," said Neil. "That was a pretty good clip of it." Asked if he ever uses his hands to get a message across to an opponent, Neil said yes, but in a different way. "If I'm getting into it," said Neil, "I'm going to be dropping the gloves and away we go."