It’s mid-November in Ottawa, so something must be wrong with the Senators’ goaltending.
At issue is the recent play of Pascal Leclaire, who turned in a particularly grim performance — especially in the third period — in a 5-1 loss to the Flyers on Thursday in Philadelphia.
“(He’s been) inconsistent. We need more from him,” said Senators coach Cory Clouston. “For the most part, the games that we’ve won, he’s been there for us. It’s pretty simple: When he’s been there, the chances of us winning are pretty good and, for the most part, he’s made some timely saves in our wins.
“The last little while he has almost been the opposite, (allowing) goals that have lost some of the momentum for us. It’s a long season. He’s a battler. He’s got kinks to work out, but he’ll be good.”
Since Clouston doesn’t announce his starter until game day, it’s anyone’s guess who’ll start Saturday against the Rangers.
Leclaire, however, was the last one off the ice following a one-hour workout, which means backup Brian Elliott will likely start for the first time since he lost 5-2 to the Lightning on Oct. 29.
Leclaire has started 13 of Ottawa’s 16 games, posting an average 6-5-1 record with a 2.89 GAAand .892 save percentage.
At the start of the season, Leclaire, acquired in a trade from the Blue Jackets last February for forward Antoine Vermette (who had three goals and nine assists in 17 games heading into last night’s play with Columbus), was getting plenty of pats on the back. Now, he’s facing a lot of criticism because he hasn’t been sharp lately:
- He didn’t look good on the opening goal by the Flyers. He misplayed a puck in the trapezoid and Philly’s Blair Betts ended up putting it home.
- In a 4-3 shootout victory Tuesday over Edmonton, Leclaire was spectacular, at times, but gave up a weak five-hole goal to Gilbert Brule, allowing the Oilers to tie the game the third period.
The Senators can’t afford those miscues if they hope to stay in contention for a playoff spot.
“The last week, I’ve had some ups and downs, but that’s going to happen,” said Leclaire. “The most important thing is to stay positive and try to learn from your mistakes. It’s a long season. I’m not worried at all.
“I’m always a positive guy. I have a tendency to forget pretty quick. That’s my personality. I don’t do anything special (to try to get out of a funk). Since I’ve been a kid, I don’t really worry about things too much. Whatever is done is done. You don’t have any control over it and you can’t really change it. I’m just going to go look ahead.”
The players haven’t lost faith in Leclaire.
“It’s a team effort,” said winger Chris Neil. “Everbody has been on Pascal with all the questions (he faced Friday). He’s played well for us. You can’t say enough about that. If he gets on a roll here, it’s going to be fun for everyone to watch. Every time he’s in the net, he gives us a chance to win.”
Clouston said goalies go through different stretches during a season.
“There’s times when the puck looks like the size of a beach ball and there’s times when it looks like the size of a pea,” said Clouston. “It’s a matter of (Leclaire) just finding that structure, that comfortable position and just being poised. For the most part, we’ve seen that.
“It’s fallen off a little bit lately. Our team, if the goaltender isn’t playing quite as well, we need to be a little bit stronger in front of him.”