Goaltending hot topic for Sens in off-season

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:20 PM ET

The No. 1 goalie position could be the No. 1 topic of discussion when Senators GM Bryan Murray sits down with coach Cory Clouston later this week to dissect the season.

As the Senators cleaned out their lockers Monday at Scotiabank Place, Murray told reporters the goaltending situation will be among the topics discussed when the duo gets together for a season-ending post-mortum.

The Senators brought in Pascal Leclaire from Columbus to be their No. 1 goalie at the March 2009 trade deadline in exchange for winger Antoine Vermette. Leclaire didn’t perform up to expectations during an injury-plagued season and lost the top job to Brian Elliott.

Making Leclaire’s season even more frustrating was the freakish nature of some of those injuries.

Already troubled by a knee issue, Leclaire suffered a fractured cheekbone after getting hit by a puck while sitting on the bench during a game on Nov. 25. That forced him to miss 16 games. Then, to make matters worse, he suffered a concussion during the morning skate before a Jan. 14 game against the Rangers.

The goaltending situation became so unsettled goalie coach Eli Wilson was shown the door just before Leclaire was injured in New York. From that point, Leclaire really never got another chance to reclaim the No. 1 job during the regular season.

“There were some ups and downs definitely with the injuries,” said Leclaire, who will make $3.8 million US next season.

“There were some rough patches through the season. It finished OK. I was hoping to have a better season. It didn’t happen. I hope next year will be better.”

Leclaire did eventually reclaim the starting job in the final two games against the Penguins in the playoffs, earning the win in Game 5, but it took Clouston until midway through an ugly 7-4 loss in Game 4 to admit Elliott wasn’t getting the job done and make the change.

Despite being lifted for Leclaire in the playoffs, Elliott has to be pleased with his season. He expected to play only about 20 games and instead finished the year with 55 appearances. He set a career high in wins with 29, and was a big reason the Senators made the playoffs — but he didn’t perform well under post-season pressure.

Elliott hopes to push Leclaire for the No. 1 job again next season.

“That’s how you have to approach every season,” said Elliott. “You saw this year, it’s an open season. It’s a competition. You have to beat your counterpart out, but you have to be a good teammate as well.

“Pascal and I have a good relationship. He played great in the playoff games he played. It’s a good sign for next season as well. It’s a challenge, but I’m always up for a good challenge.”

Clouston said he felt good about the club’s goaltending.

“There’s a lot of positives there,” the coach said. “Brian has made a lot of progression ... this year he has had a real good year. Pascal had a tough season as far as injuries and it’s a credit to him to be able to battle back with two good, strong games at the end.

“I like our goaltending for the most part. There’s been a lot of improvements. Both goaltenders will learn from how they handled pressure and how they dealt with pressure. I think they’ll both be better next year.”

Leclaire and Elliott might face competition from another source next season. Murray said prospect Robin Lehner, a second-round pick in the 2009 draft, will get a good look in training camp.

“Contracts are always part of it,” said Murray. “(Lehner) just told me a few minutes ago he will challenge really seriously and I believe him. He’s that calibre of kid. If Robin Lehner comes in here and knocks our socks off in training camp, we’d probably be fairly open-minded.”

bruce.garrioch@sunmedia.ca


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