Revived netminding sparks Sens

DON BRENNAN , QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:11 AM ET

OTTAWA — For a Brodeur-vs.-Brodeur showdown to go down at Scotiabank Place Tuesday night, Senators coach Cory Clouston would have to make a bold move.

He’d have to bench the league’s hottest player.

Brian Elliott was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week (Jan. 18-24) for winning all four games while allowing just five goals and making 110 saves. Second star was Colorado goalie Craig Anderson, who had two shutouts in his three victories, while third star was Sidney Crosby, whose eight-point week included a six-point game.

After Monday’s practice, Clouston announced that the team’s best puck stopper among its skaters — defenceman Anton Volchenkov — would likely return from a one-game injury absence to face the New Jersey Devils.

The coach also maintained tradition by not revealing who will play net against New Jersey, and Martin Brodeur, who is 3-0 against Ottawa this season and almost certainly about to make his 30th straight start in the Devils net.

Conceivably, Clouston could turn to Mike Brodeur, who was 2-0 and allowed just two goals before being hit by the flu last week. Especially with the Senators starting a 10-game-in-20-day stretch heading into the Olympic break, and Pascal Leclaire (concussion) no guarantee to be available any time soon.

And while Elliott is on the type of roll the Senators have waited on from one of their masked men for a long time, his play would better be described as steady than spectacular. Which is exactly all they’ve needed.

“You can’t win in this league without goaltending,” Clouston said. “He’s played with a little more confidence, he’s getting out to the top of his crease ... just doing what he needs to do. That’s the way we expected him to play, for the most part. Obviously he’s feeling good about himself. The team is playing well in front of him, and he’s having success.”

The stats back up Clouston’s claim that the team has played well in front of its goalies. Heading into last night’s action, the Senators had the fourth lowest shots- allowed per-game average in the league, at 28.1.

They almost fell out of the Eastern Conference’s Top 8 because their goalies were allowing at least one deflating, bad goal per game. That they’ve kicked such a bad habit — and injured front-liners such as Daniel Alfredsson, Milan Michalek and Jason Spezza have returned to action - have helped the Senators to six straight wins and a solid group on fifth place.

“We were giving up seven, eight chances a game and we were losing games,” said Clouston. “(Now) we’re playing well in front of him, and we have obviously some more depth, so I think that teams are now maybe approaching our team a little differently, when we have a little more balance on the attack. They may be a little more on the defensive mode, as opposed to when you look at our group and say, ‘geez, they’re missing a bunch of guys so we can really pressure these guys and put a lot of shots and rubber on these guys’. Now when we have a little more power up front, any mistake, our transition games can make teams pay. I think the way teams look at us may have changed and is different a little bit lately, but I don’t think we’ve changed our game.”

Elliott is taking his new found success in stride. By his demeanor when the media are in the dressing room, you wouldn’t know if he was winning or losing these days.

“As a goalie you just try to play the same way every day, and get better and more confident as you go along,” he said. “Obviously when the team is playing so well, it reflects well on the goalie. We’ve just got to keep it going, not get too high on ourselves. We did a good job of not getting too low, we’ve just got to do a good job of not getting too high.

“I only felt the pressure from an internal source,” he added, when asked if the attention on a man in his position, in a hockey market, was ever overwhelming. “We know what the fans want, and what they deserve ... it’s a good Canadian town here and we want to win for them. We really want to win for ourselves, first and foremost.”

Defenceman Matt Carkner says Elliott showed his character in getting his game back on track.

“Just to keep his focus through that time, where everyone was carving him, trying to take a notch out of him, he just fought through it, got back to his game and he’s playing well now,” said Carkner.

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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