It's once again safe to think about hiring a coach for Senators goalies.
Management didn't dare replace Eli Wilson when the team went on an 11-game winning streak the day after firing Ottawa's goalie mentor since 2007.
But for the first practice since a run-halting 5-0 embarrassment in Toronto, there was goaltending consultant John Stevenson huddled in the Scotiabank Place stands with Senators GM Bryan Murray. Stevenson, who was Clouston’s goalie coach with the WHL’s Kootenay Ice, had spent the past week with the Binghamton Senators, far from the kitchens of Brian Elliott and Pascal Leclaire.
Clouston says Stevenson is a “very smart” man, who the Senators have not yet completely decided how they’ll employ.
“Things worked well without one,” Leclaire said Monday when asked about bringing in a new goalie coach, “but with the decision they made with Eli, a lot of things have been said about him, that he was the guy to blame, and I think it’s really unfair to say that. Just timing wise, things happened like that.
“Having a guy around in practice would be good. Hopefully, he’ll get used to us as quick as we get used to him, and move forward.”
Elliott, who set a franchise record with nine consecutive wins during the streak, was pulled after allowing four goals — including an ugly one by Luke Schenn — in two periods vs. the Leafs. Leclaire, who the Senators pay to be the No. 1 goalie, hasn’t started a game since Jan. 12. He’s missed a couple of weeks since recovering from a concussion.
Which one gets the start Tuesday when the Calgary Flames visit Scotiabank Place will be announced after the morning skate. No hints slipped out Monday.
“His practices have been a little bit up and down,” Clouston said about Leclaire. “I think he’s still trying to find his game. But (against Toronto) I thought he played very well.”
Leclaire’s view of his practices is different.
“I feel really good,” he said. “I had a really good week of practise, and I felt good in that third period in Toronto. So for me, there’s no reason I’m not ready to go. It’s a coaching decision, and Brian’s been playing pretty well. We’ve been rolling the ball with that ... that’s what teams do. I’m going to wait patiently, make sure I work hard and make sure when I get the call I’m ready to go.”
The Senators have just 23 games left and, while the winning streak virtually assured them of a return to the playoffs, there are other important issues to settle. One of them is the goaltending.
Clouston says there’s a plan in place as far as the rotation, and one would assume it has Leclaire carrying the bulk of the load. But time is running out for him to show he can handle it.
In the big picture, there is jockeying to be done for seeding purposes. The Senators should want to claim their fifth division title in order to get a Top 3 spot and avoid a first-round matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
They currently trail Buffalo by one point in the race for the Northeast title, with the Sabres enjoying two games in hand. First things first, though, and that means rebounding from Saturday’s stinker.
“We just didn’t have our game at all,” Clouston said. “In any way, shape or form. It just wasn’t there.”
The theory that having the streak stopped by a five-goal loss is better than it ending with a one-goal loss in that the severe dose of reality should help the team refocus is not one subscribed to by Daniel Alfredsson.
“I don’t think it matters how you lose, you just want to come back with a good effort the next game,” said the captain. “We’ve got four games before the Olympic break, and we’d obviously like to finish on a good note to get ready for the last push.
“To win 11 in a string, you’ve got to be sharp. We know at the same time if you’re not going 100%, if you make a couple of mistakes, it can definitely change the outcome of the game against any opponent in this league.
“We’re just going to bounce back and have a strong showing (Tuesday).”