Lehner making a play to stay

DON BRENNAN, Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:02 PM ET

TORONTO — The popular opinion of the radio show callers regarding the Senators’ goaltending situation Thursday will almost surely be this: Brian Elliott’s gotta go, Robin Lehner has to stay.

Alas, it ain’t gonna happen, folks.

Not yet, anyway.

Twenty-four hours after the 19-year-old Lehner posted a 24-save shutout, Elliott was up to his old tricks at the Air Canada Centre Wednesday. Yup, he may be the most improved player in the organization over the last three years, but Elliott still has a penchant for giving up bad goals.

He failed to smother rebounds twice — looking particularly weak on Nikolai Kulemin’s opener on Toronto’s third shot, and allowing Phil Kessel to beat him, short side, with a shot along the ice from the left-wing faceoff circle as the Leafs took a 3-0 lead. Kessel is a gifted goal scorer, but that was not a hard or tricky shot.

Good news is this time Elliott only lost the Senators a pre-season game.

Earlier in the day, coach Cory Clouston suggested Lehner had a chance of starting the season in Ottawa.

“If he keeps playing the way he did (Tuesday) night, it would be pretty hard to not have him here,” Clouston said. “That obviously gives us opportunities to do different things, but that’s a question to (GM) Bryan (Murray), that’s not a question to me. I mean, he can’t do anything more than he did (Tuesday) night.

“So we’ll play it game by game, and if he forces us to do something we never maybe envisioned at the start of camp, then that’s a positive thing for us and the organization. That gives us a lot more depth in a position that obviously is very, very important.”

What else is Clouston going to say?

Fact of the matter is, even if it wasn’t for the cap issue, the Senators have too much invested in Elliott to set his career back with a demotion to Binghamton.

And the cap issue can’t be dismissed — they’re not going to pay Elliott $850,000 to play in the minors while figuring out a way to squeeze Lehner under budget.

The biggest point of all, however, is that Lehner needs seasoning in the AHL. Teenagers just don’t step into the NHL and star, unless their name is Tom Barrasso.

That all said, the Senators will send Lehner to Binghamton rather than his junior team in the Soo, where he is still eligible to play, just in case they need to call him up — which they couldn’t do if they returned him to the OHL.

If Lehner continues to play like he did Tuesday — and if Elliott continues to give up the softies — they’ll need to find a way to make a move.

STARTS AND STOPS

Francis Lessard had an eventful debut as a Senator. On his first shift, the 31-year-old tough guy threw himself at Mikhail Grabovski, then threw his fists at Leafs sticking up for their teammate. That’s OK. But on his next shift, Lessard threw himself at Mike Komisarek, missed, and went toppling over the boards and just about onto Pierre McGuire’s lap. Later in the period, Lessard lost his balance and spun out of control in front of the Ottawa bench, much to the delight of Leafs fans. “I just want to play hard, go hard on the forecheck,” Lessard said before the game. “We’ll see what happens from there.” Lessard, who had 613 penalty minutes in the last two seasons with the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage, should combine with Tim Spencer to give Binghamton plenty of muscle ... Jesse Winchester might have been Ottawa’s best all-round forward in Tuesday’s win. He was strong on the penalty kill and good in the circles, finishing with an 8-3 record after losing his first two. An example of Winchester’s new confidence came on the play he made leading up to his goal. When he came up with the puck in the defensive zone, he made a nice move with it, rather than dish it away, like he would have last season. That started the rush for what would be the winning goal. “I feel healthy, I feel strong,’ said Winchester, who the Senators showed faith in over the summer by re-signing. “I want to have a bigger role on the PK, if it allows for it. We have such a deep forward group. But I know what I have to do to be successful, and I’m comfortable doing that.”

BETWEEN PERIODS

Two games in, two sweet goals by Nick Foligno. The most recent came on a nice move in front of James Reimer. No, I’d never heard of Reimer, either, but that’s not the point ... Off the ice, Toronto first-line mates Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak have become good friends in a short period of time. On the ice, they have a relationship that works, too. “Phil wants the puck all the time, and I think he has Bozie in his pocket to do that,” said coach Rod Wilson. “I think it’s smart of Phil to do that.” How many points can poolsters expect from Bozak in his first full NHL season? “If I could (predict) that, I’d be in fantasy hockey, big-time,” said Wilson, who went on to take a guess nonetheless. “If Phil scores 40 goals, he should be in on three-quarters of them, and a few others. Maybe 50-60 or more. We hope he continues to improve.”

MAKEs YOU GO HMMM ...

One pre-season game into a long schedule, and the Toronto media was already letting the Leafs have it. The Toronto Sun’s front-page headline following Tuesday’s 5-0 loss to the Senators: Leafs — Here we go again. Players weren’t bothered by the slam, however. “At the end of the day, you’re never as good as they say you are, and you’re never as bad,” rationalized Komisarek. “At the end of the day, you take what’s said with a grain of salt.” ... That he lost the fight shouldn’t matter. What’s important is that David Hale, a 29-year-old journeyman trying to land a spot on the Senators defence, dropped gloves (and helmets) with Jay Rosehill after the Toronto goon ran Ryan Shannon’s face into the glass. Didn’t even look like Hale wanted to fight Rosehill, but he did. Good for him.

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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