PETAWAWA — Both are healthy, both are rarin’ to go and, for as far as the 2010-11 season is concerned, both are starting with a clean slate.
So who is the Senators’ goalie in Friday’s opener at Scotiabank Place against the Buffalo Sabres: Pascal Leclaire or Brian Elliott? Which is the team’s No. 1 goalie for game No. 1? Who gets the first chance to take the reins and giddy-up with them?
Of course, coach Cory Clouston knows, but as per tradition, he’s not yet ready to say. Nor is he about to reveal when minds were made up — whether it was before, during or after training camp.
“I’m not going to tell you when our decision is made,” Clouston said after practice Monday at Silver Dart Arena in CFB Petawawa, where the Senators spent two days on a team bonding excursion. “I’ll tell you what our decision is on Friday morning.”
If Clouston was a little testy on the subject, it’s tough to blame him. The Senators gave up 26 goals in eight pre-season games and only rookie Robin Lehner (1.01 GAA, .957 save percentage) had good numbers. Alas, the 19-year-old is already in Binghamton for more seasoning.
Elliott played three games and had a 3.24 GAA to go along with a .882 save percentage, while Leclaire had a 4.43 GAA and an even uglier .856 GAA.
Neither took control the way the team wanted, and Clouston is hoping they’ll use their pre-season struggles as added motivation.
“There were some very good things we saw from the goaltenders, but there were also a lot of inconsistencies, little areas they really have to clean up,” he said. “They’re in a position that if they do have a bad game, it becomes a huge deal, as opposed to just an individual player who has a bad game.
“I’m not going to deny that we’re (not) happy with our goaltenders. We think they have to play better. We know they have to play better. We wanted both of them to play better, one of them to step it up. We didn’t get that. But we’re still confident we can have at least one guy ready to go and start the season.”
Leclaire will make $4 million more than Elliott this season, but they could wind up on an even rotation. Clouston says there’s no cause for alarm if the Senators don’t have a clear-cut No. 1 coming out of camp. Michael Leighton and Antti Niemi, the goalies in last spring’s Stanley Cup final, would agree with him.
“Looking back to last year, I think there was 15 to 17 teams that started with who they thought was going to be the starter and didn’t end up with that,” said Clouston. “I’m not saying we’re going to have that, but when you look around the league there are a number of teams who don’t have that legitimate, go-to guy. “
There are about seven or eight that I can think of in the league that the last five or six years have been that type of goaltender, that you know they’re going to be able to play 60-70 games for you, you know what you’re going to get every night, they’ve built up that reputation of consistency. There’s a lot of new guys just starting to become that goaltender. I think we’ve got a couple of guys who are in that situation. ”
In keeping with his laid-back personality, pre-season stats don’t worry Leclaire.
“I don’t even look at my numbers,” he said. “It’s really not a big deal. You’ve got to make sure you’re ready to go when it counts.”
Elliott isn’t especially concerned about getting the symbolic call for the opener.
“You just take it as it comes,” he said. “The first game isn’t the end all, be all. It’s not like you’re winning or losing a job or anything.”
Naturally, the rest of the Senators are standing behind their two goalies.
“We have full confidence in our guys,” said Chris Phillips, “and we’re looking forward to starting the season with them.”