Pascal Leclaire will carry extremely high expectations into the crease this season, starting with his first game in an Ottawa jersey tonight.
“He’s going to be a very good goaltender,” coach Cory Clouston said this morning of Leclaire, who is slated to play the first half of the pre-season opener against the Florida Panthers at the Metro Centre in Halifax.
“There’s no reason why he can’t be. Right from junior, throughout the early part of his career, he was an elite goaltender. Obviously he’s been hampered by some injuries, but we have high expectations. As does he.
“We expect him to be very, very good. But we also have a lot of confidence in (backup) Brian (Elliott). As far as the last three years I’ve been involved in the organization, I think the goaltending position is as deep as it’s ever been.”
Leclaire says he has fully recovered from ankle surgery and will focus on getting his timing back.
“It’s been eight, nine months since I’ve played. It will be weird a little bit,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Of the 18 skaters gone to Halifax, only about 10 saw regular action with the Senators last season.
Missing tonight - which means they’ll likely play tomorrow when Ottawa and Florida face off at Scotiabank Place - are the likes of Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson, Alex Kovalev, Mike Fisher, Jonathan Cheechoo, Chris Phillips and Anton Volchenkov. Clouston said he’ll be looking for veterans to solidify their roles in the pre-season.
“It doesn’t matter who you are, you still have something to prove,” said Clouston.
The Senators have had only two days of practice heading into their first exhibition.
The talk surrounding the team until now has centred on Dany Heatley, as well as Milan Michalek and Cheechoo - the two San Jose Sharks obtained in last weekend’s trade for the former 50-goal scorer.
The Panthers are expected to have some of their top players in the lineup tonight, guys like Nathan Horton, Stepehn Weiss, David Booth and Keith Ballard.
“The difference from our perspective is we’ve had a little bit of adversity, different situations surrounding the team that maybe you needed a day to kind of recover and regroup. You’re bringing guys in, taking a guy away, so I think it’s a little different situation for us, but I think the guys are looking forward to the game tonight,” said Clouston. “They’re excited about it.
"No one likes to have five or six practices, scrimmages before games. I think we’d rather have a game than an intrasquad game, that’s for sure.”