As he hobbled and wobbled down the tunnel towards the Senators’ dressing room just two minutes and six seconds of game time past the opening faceoff, you had to wonder if it would be the last time you’d ever see Pascal Leclaire as a No. 1 goalie.
Either in Ottawa or — 8˝ months before he could become an unwanted unrestricted free agent — anywhere else in the NHL.
Without trying to sensationalize, how is Cory Clouston supposed to ever again show faith in Porcelain Pascal after the team’s best player through three games pulled himself so early into Thursday’s important tilt with the Hurricanes?
Some believed Clouston was nudged into playing Leclaire against the ’Canes in the first place, after hearing the coach backtrack, during the morning press conference, on a claim Brian Elliott would make his first start either against Carolina or Saturday in Montreal.
“You guys said that,” Clouston told the media when again asked if Elliott was still going to start one of the next two games. “And I said yeah, probably.”
He may have thought it went that way, but he’s also not the one with the digital recorders.
Anyhow, Clouston is now officially forgiven for any doubt he might have had in Leclaire, who he may have been able to rely on in his first full NHL season had he only guarded more closely against his top ’tender being injured while sitting on the bench and in practice.
At least this time Leclaire went down in the heat of battle. Even if it was just a flicker.
If his “lower body” problem did actually occur when he was bumped gently by Carolina’s Tom Kostopoulos, then Leclaire either didn’t stretch enough in pre-game warm-ups or he really is made of bone china.
Either way, as he left the ice, he didn’t look much like he’ll be able to work again any time soon.
Elliott, meanwhile, was stellar in relief, aside from the wandering act he did on the Hurricanes’ first goal.
Called the organization’s most improved player the last three years by Clouston, the 25-year-old could be ready to become a bonafide No. 1 goalie in his fourth.
If not, then the Senators either need to forget about their fears of hindering Robin Lehner’s development and give the 19-year-old Swede a shot to play in the big leagues now, or turn to Mike Brodeur.
They can’t sit on their hands and blow this chance to be a playoff contender with shoddy goaltending. And they can no longer trust Porcelain Pascal, whose bandwagon we are officially jumping from, will be the guy they thought he’d be.
STARTS AND STOPS
There were a number of outstanding saves in the first period — by Elliott off Jeff Skinner, Erik Cole and Brandon Sutter, by Cam Ward off Milan Michalek (twice) and Chris Kelly — before Mike Fisher scored the game’s first with an unlikely wrist shot from just inside the blue line that appeared to hit Carolina’s Jussi Jokinen in the butt before floating 10 feet straight up, then straight down off an unsuspecting Ward. You did notice the word “unlikely” in that goal description, right? ... For the record, it was by Ottawa’s top defensive pairing of Chris Phillips and Sergei Gonchar that Erik Cole snuck a perfect pass to Eric Staal on the tying goal. A delicious feed, indeed ... This year’s version of Jason Spezza can still drive the fans nuts, not to mention his coaches. With time winding down and the Senators clinging to a one-goal lead, Spezza tried a spectacular move inside the Carolina blue line — putting the puck between his legs — only to be stymied. Elliott wound up making a great save off rookie Skinner off the rush that came from the turnover.
IT MAKES YOU GO HMM...
That’s the Fisher the Senators need to see more often. He used his speed, he had eight shots on goal, and he brought jars of jam to the dinner table ... Senators communications guy Chris Moore did inform the pressbox media midway through the first that Leclaire had a “lower body” injury and would not return “this evening.” Even though it sounded like he said “this season.”
The Senators took no special delight in seeing an arch-nemesis go down like a bag of bricks Wednesday. Colton Orr was having his way in a scrap with Pittsburgh’s Deryk Engelland until he was bopped on the beak with a tremendous right from the rookie defenceman. That is why “if you’ve got a guy going, you’ve got to keep him going,” said Chris Neil. Matt Carkner, who has had been felled by the Leafs pugilist more often than he has dropped Orr, knows Engelland from the minors. “He’s a tough guy,” said Carkner. “He’s the same style as me. A rugged defenceman who can take care of himself.” Clearly. As for the concern that, with heavyweights going down in heaps these days as the reasoning, somebody is going to get badly hurt in a fight, Carkner says guys have to be smarter when they tangle. “It’s the same in the entire history of hockey,” he said. “Anyone could have got hurt any time. People have been fighting for decades. It’s no different. It’s just maybe that guys are bigger now. You’re fighting guys 6-foot-8, 270. It’s a little bit more punching power, but they’re going to be a little slower, too. You’ve got a fight a little smarter, so you can see the bombs coming. They don’t feel good, I’ll tell you that much. But it’s part of the game. Always will be.”
The 18-year-old Skinner was playing his first game at Scotiabank Place since he was a member of the Toronto Jr. Canadiens team that won a Bell Capital Cup title in the Major Atom AAA division just six years ago. In the winter of 2004, Skinner also claimed a medal in the Skate Canada Junior Nationals at Nepean Sportsplex. Asked if any of his Carolina teammates have prodded him into showing off his figure skating jumps, Skinner chuckled. “They bugged me in junior,” he said. “But I didn’t want to hurt myself.” ... Skinner’s older sister Erica is on the Carleton University women’s hockey team. “She plays defence,” he said, when asked what part of his game she helped him with. “So I guess my defensive game?” ... I’d go to a bar and listen to The Dube Brothers perform, but the members of the Senators’ popular new in-house band are still about 10 years from being able to enter such an establishment.