Pascal Leclaire is looking forward to his shot at redemption tonight in the Battle of Ontario.
Senators coach Cory Clouston is tight-lipped about his starting goaltender until after the pre-game skate, but with the club trying to rebound after Saturday’s shootout loss and stay in the playoff race, there’s no reason to start a controversy with the sad-sack Toronto Maple Leafs in town.
The Leafs have just three wins and 11 points in 18 games, but the rivalry brings out the best in both teams. It’s an opportunity for the struggling Leclaire to get back on track with a tough schedule ahead.
“I’m looking forward to playing (tonight),” said Leclaire. “I had a rough week last week (giving up eight goals in two games) ... but I still did some good things. That’s what I’m really focusing on. Bad goals are going to happen.
“I have to focus on what I did (well) in those games. They aren’t perfect games, but there’s still some good stuff out of them.”
While backup Brian Elliott was solid with 27 saves in the 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Rangers Saturday, Leclaire gave up five goals in a loss to the Philadelphia Flyers and three in a shootout win over the Edmonton Oilers.
Leclaire was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets at last season’s trade deadline to be the No. 1 goalie and it’s part of Clouston’s responsibility to help get Leclaire rolling again.
League executives suggest Leclaire, who has a 6-5-1 record with a save percentage that has slipped to .892, isn’t standing up enough in the net and challenging the shooter.
“He’s sliding all over the place,” said one league executive. “And, as a result ... he’s giving up bad goals.”
Leclaire needs to get his confidence back, so a victory over the hated Leafs would be a big boost. It would also help him prepare for Thursday’s visit by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Clouston said he believes Leclaire can return to form.
“Are we confident? Yeah, we’re confident. It’s a long season,” said Clouston. “Both of our goaltenders have been very solid and very good. Pascal, when he finds his rhythm — and I don’t think it’s going to be very long — he’s one of the top goalies in the league.”
Leclaire also needs help. Clouston was blunt when asked whether the skaters have been giving the goalies enough offensive support?
“When you score one goal. No,” said Clouston. “Absolutely we need to score more than one goal for our team to win. We’ve had opportunities. We’ve been doing a lot of good things and we have a lot more presence around the net. We went to the net a lot harder (against New York).”
It was no coincidence centre Jason Spezza — who has just one goal this season — was the last Senator off the ice an hour after practice yesterday. He was working with assistant Brad Lauer on his shot and trying out different sticks from the slot.
Captain Daniel Alfredsson said nobody is pointing any fingers.
“We’re all in this together,” said Alfredsson. “We don’t look to say, ‘This guy made a mistake or this guy should have had that.’ As a group, we’ve just got to find ways to win. We’re putting ourselves in the right position, (but) we’re not coming through all the time.”