NEW YORK — On some nights, it looks like the Senators goalies couldn’t stop a beach ball.
Somebody finally paid the price ... and it wasn’t either of the goalies — Pascal Leclaire or Brian Elliott. Senators GM Bryan Murray fired goaltending coach Eli Wilson Wednesday.
Wilson, who was hired by the Senators in 2007 when Ray Emery was one of his star pupils, wasn’t surprised by the decision.
“You get to the top level and things don’t work out, you’re obviously very disappointed,” Wilson told the Sun in a telephone interview from La Guardia Airport. “It’s tough to swallow, but I understand that whether it’s my fault or isn’t my fault, it’s my responsibility in the end to make sure goaltenders move forward. It falls on my shoulders.
“I fully accept the responsibility when things don’t go well and fully understand why. It was my job to get them to stop the puck and if I don’t, then I’m going to feel heat: First, from the coaching staff and then from the management. When they don’t play well, you know that your job is going to be on the line.”
Senators coach Cory Clouston said it was time for a bold move.
“It’s based on performance. I don’t think it does anybody any good to sit here and do nothing,” said Clouston. “We have to try something different. When I say that, Eli is a very good friend of mine. It’s not fun. It’s not easy. We still have to come up with something.
“I don’t think this (gives the goalies) a free pass at all. They should have some responsibility on their shoulders.”
Clouston said he understands the belief Wilson is being made a scapegoat.
“I’m telling (you) right now, the responsibility doesn’t solely lie on Eli’s shoulders,” said Clouston. “I have to take some of that responsibility. I am part of the coaching staff, obviously. I’m the head coach.
“It falls on my shoulders as well. We’re not solely blaming Eli. It appears that way, but to me, we still have to find a way to make a change and this is part of the change.”
It’s doubtful the Senators will hire a full-time goalie coach immediately. Two league executives believe former Ottawa goalie Ron Tugnutt and former Montreal netminder Rollie Melanson are top candidates.
While Leclaire worked with former NHL goalie Clint Malarchuk in Columbus, sources indicated he likely won’t be on the list. Murray said in a statement from the club’s scouting meetings in Florida he hopes to have someone in place soon.
“Hopefully, in the next week we’ll have someone at least in a consulting capacity,” said Murray. “Somebody that can have insight and give direction to our goaltenders and get them back on track to where we think they’re capable of being.”
Leclaire said he has to get back to playing his game.
“Most of the time I know what I do wrong on bad goals,” said Leclaire, who spoke to the media before the firing was announced. “We’ll get out of it. We haven’t all become bad over the span of a week. Things aren’t going our way right now. We’ll just get back to it and we’ll be back on a roll again.”
The Senators can only hope Leclaire is right.