Sens' Leclaire, Neil anxious to return

Ottawa Senators' Mike Fisherjokes around during practice at Scotiabank Place Monday. (Darren...

Ottawa Senators' Mike Fisherjokes around during practice at Scotiabank Place Monday. (Darren Brown/QMI Agency)

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 10:06 AM ET

PITTSBURGH - The Senators packed a couple of extra Christmas presents they’ll unwrap Wednesday at Mellon Arena.

As the Senators prepare to face the Pittsburgh Penguins for their final game before the two-day NHL break, goaltender Pascal Leclaire (broken cheekbone) and winger Chris Neil (knee) were aboard for the short flight and they’ll return to the lineup Wednesday.

And, both will be welcomed back with open arms, especially Leclaire. Goaltender Brian Elliott went 7-8-1 during Leclaire’s absence, but hasn’t learned to play with the consistency it takes to be a No. 1 at this level. Leclaire was playing well before he broke his cheek sitting ont the bench.

“We’re excited about it,” said Clouston. “He was starting to play very well before he got hurt. We can’t change our game. We’re playing well defensively. We just have to generate more offence. Obviously, it’s nice to have him back. We just have to play consistently hard.”

Leclaire said he’s been fortunate to be able to skate and take shots.

“Being on the ice for three weeks, even if it wasn’t for a full practice, was good for me,” said Leclaire. “It feels good. I’ve missed a lot of games and I’m really just looking forward to coming back.”

Senators GM Bryan Murray believes Elliott had a good chance to learn.

“He’s a young goaltender and this gave him a chance to develop into a No. 1 goaltender in a couple of years,” said Murray. “But, Pascal has proven that he’s a No. 1 goalie. He’s won games on his own in the past. That gives your team a little more confidence going forward.”

Naturally, Neil brings an element the club has missed.

“I’m excited. I hate watching games. It’s frustrating. I like to be out there competing in whatever way you can. I’m looking forward to getting back into it and I feel pretty good,” said Neil.

Leclaire said he’s not going to wear a mask the next time he backs up.

“I’ll be keeping a close eye on the play. It’ll be drain mentally. That’s for sure. I’m sure there’s going to be some jokes made when I’m on the bench again and somebody’s going to bring me a helmet or something,” said Leclaire.

NO OLYMPICS FOR KOVY?: Senators RW Alexei Kovalev told Sun Media he doesn’t expect to be named to the Russian Olympic team when the 22-man roster for Vancouver is announced Christmas day.

“I don’t think I have a chance to,” said Kovalev, who attended the club’s Orientation camp in the summer.

“If I were go it would be great, but if I don’t it would be nice to have 10 days of rest to have a better second half of the season.”

Kovalev, who has 7-13-20 points in 33 games this year, said he doesn’t believe his numbers are good enough to go.

“You guys keep talking about the points that I’ve put up so far and the way I’ve been playing. I would hope I’d be playing better by now, so I’m sure they’re going to pick the guys who have more points and are playing better. That’s my feeling,” he said.


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