Leclaire anxious to play again

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:13 AM ET

Pascal Leclaire accomplished a lot of what he wanted to during the past five days of practice. Starting with the basics.

“The big thing for me was breaking in my new pads,” the Senators goalie said Monday at Scotiabank Place. “I think I’ve done that, so that’s a positive.”

When he’ll get to use them in a game, however, Leclaire’s not so sure.

It’s likely coach Cory Clouston will go with Brian Elliott when the Senators play their first game since the Olympic break, Tuesday at Scotiabank Place against the New York Rangers. With Leclaire recovering from a concussion, Elliott was able to get on a roll, making 14 consecutive starts and winning 12 of them.

But the Senators’ goaltending is also the huge question mark to which the team’s success hinges. Both have been beaten up in bouts with consistency in the past five months. And, while Elliott only has 72 games of regular-season experience under his belt, neither he or Leclaire has suited up for an NHL playoff game.

“You need both goaltenders ready to go,” Clouston said when asked about the team’s rotation plans down the stretch and into the playoffs. “You never know what’s going to happen. Our goal is to get both guys playing with a lot of confidence.”

Clouston says Leclaire has made “big strides” in the last week of practise, and that the 27-year-old former first-round pick “continues to get better.”

For his part, Leclaire admits his season has been a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs since he took a puck in the face while backing up Elliott during a game in November.

“It was good to have a lot of time to practise,” Leclaire said, reflecting on the last week. “Just kind of get things straight, get things rolling the right way and get rid of the bad habits. I think we’re ready to go.

“Right now, I’m feeling good about myself. I’m motivated. It’s fun coming to the rink. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to play soon.”

The final few weeks will provide playoff-like games for the Senators, as they try and at least maintain the one-point lead they have on Buffalo in the race for the Northeast Division title. The way it looks now, they should have about a dozen games against teams even more desperate than them, starting with the Rangers, who are in 10th place, but just one point back of the eighth-place Habs.

“These last 19 games, it’s going to be exciting,” said Elliott. “In my pro career, I really haven’t had an opportunity to play for something like this. It’s exciting and I’m looking forward to it.”

Elliott acknowledges the challenge he and his mates face of getting back into the mental groove they were in before the break.

Starting with a 2-0 victory over the Rangers Jan. 14, Ottawa won 14-of-16 games before a hiatus that started Feb. 14.

“I don’t think it’s easy,” said Elliott. “(But) just having that same attitude, I don’t think guys lost it over the break. When we come back here, we still have the confidence and the know-how that we can play with anybody in the league.

“We’ve just got to take that to the game and be prepared right off the bat. Not get behind teams and try to play with the lead like we have been.”

Leclaire says he isn’t privy to Clouston’s plan for the goalies.

“We haven’t talked about it,.” he said. “Obviously, I’d like to play as much as possible. I’m sure Brian is the same way, too. If we can push each other, I think the team will get good results out of us. It’s a coaching decision. You control what you can control.

“There won’t be any fights, no issues here. It’s tough. I want to play like everybody else. The more you play, the more you feel good.

“I’m confident when they give me the green light ... I feel really good in practice, I don’t see why I wouldn’t feel good in games, too.”

Leclaire also knows the Senators will go as far as their goaltending carries them — even if he isn’t thinking that way.

“For us, it’s a team thing,” he said. “But every year, good teams usually get good goaltending. That’s a fact. I’ve been dealing with it since I was 12 years old, so it’s not my focus.”


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