HALIFAX — Pascal Leclaire made his long-awaited debut as a Senator last night.
The goalie, acquired at last season’s NHL trade deadline from Columbus for Antoine Vermette, turned aside 14-of-16 shots in Ottawa’s 3-1 pre-season loss to Florida at the Halifax Metro Centre.
Leclaire, making his first start since Dec. 10, 2008 after having ankle surgery, was happy to see some game action.
“It’s good to get that first one in. It’s been a long time,” said Leclaire. “It was definitely a little weird. This is totally different from practices. I’m glad it’s done. I felt okay at the beginning and I felt a little better as the game went on. It was just good to get a game in. I haven’t played in forever.”
Kamil Kreps gave the Panthers a 2-1 lead during a delayed penalty call at 17:54 of the first period, beating Leclaire on the blocker side from the slot.
Scott Timmins scored Florida’s first goal, beating Leclaire top shelf to tie the game 1-1 only 57 seconds after the Senators had taken a 1-0 lead on a power-play goal by Alex Picard.
Leclaire would have probably liked more of a test in his first game back in nine months, but neither team iced an all-star lineup.
Leclaire, who looked good moving around his crease, didn’t have many tough saves, but he did make a nice pad stop on Victor Oreskovich just before being replaced by rookie Robin Lehner a little more than halfway through the second period.
Lehner turned in a solid effort, allowing only David Booth’s late second-period goal, while making 13 saves.
“I thought (Leclaire) played well. It’s definitely something to build on,” said Ottawa coach Cory Clouston. “He can gain some confidence off that game. He looked comfortable. I thought he made a couple of nice saves, especially in the first period. For a guy who hasn’t played in a long time, it was a good first step for him.”
Picard, who spent part of three seasons with QMJHL’s Mooseheads, opened the scoring on the power play in the first, when his shot from the point appeared to deflect off a Florida player and past Panthers goalie Scott Clemmensen on the glove side.
Battling for a spot on the blue line with eight defencemen in camp, Picard came up with a big play by diving to knock away the puck from Michal Repik, who was breaking in all alone on Leclaire.
“You could tell it was our first game,” said Picard. “As we go along, it’s only going to get better.”
Rookie defenceman Erik Karlsson didn’t look out of place. He moved the puck well on the power play and picked up an assist on Picard’s goal.
Senators winger Chris Neil dropped Florida’s Nick Tarnasky to the ice with a left shot during a second-period fight.
“It was good to get one in and get back into the groove,” said Neil.