He’s looked sharp, focused, quick ... better than he did all last season.
One untimely Alex Ovechkin shot aside, Pascal Leclaire has been exactly what the Senators need him to be. And if Cory Clouston doesn’t start Leclaire Thursday against the Hurricanes, it could very well be his first mishandling of Senators goalies since March 4 in Carolina, when Leclaire, making his first start in two months, was inappropriately pulled after giving up two goals on five shots, neither of which were his fault.
Leclaire’s confidence never recovered from that whipping.
No, goaltending has not been the reason for Ottawa’s stutter start to the 2010-11 campaign. The problem has been at the other end of the rink. Through three games, the Senators have four goals. Their leading scorers are third-liners Jarkko Ruutu and Chris Neil, both of whom are paid more for their grit than their snipe.
Yet Ruutu (one goal, one assist) and Neil (two assists) are the only Senators with more than one point.
This isn’t the first time Ruutu — who established a career high in points last season with 26 — has jumped off to a fast start. As a Penguin, he scored two points in Game 1 of the 2006-07 season.
“So that was (on pace for) 164,” he cracked Wednesday. “But I didn’t make it, which was kind of disturbing for me.”
Ruutu finished that campaign with 16 points.
So, does he have a reasonable shot at 100 this season?
“Yeah,” Ruutu deadpanned. “I put a lot of pressure on myself.”
In all seriousness, the Ruutu-Chris Kelly-Neil line has been Ottawa’s most consistent unit, just as it was through much of last season. Ruutu says there’s lots to be said for the cohesiveness that comes with staying together.
“When you know the guys, their strengths, and you get in a certain rhythm, it helps,” he said. “I think it’s the chemistry, when you have to think the game in the same way. If you throw three guys out there that think different, you’re not ever going to hit the chemistry.”
Ruutu, Kelly and Neil are less concerned with personal stats than with scoring points for the system, for the greater good. Their game is cycling, hitting, creating turnovers. If something else comes from them, it’s a bonus.
“The only thing that really matters is how many points the team has,” said Ruutu. “Obviously you want to score, chip in offensively, but in the end, the only thing that really matters is making the playoffs. Once playoffs start, there’s no stats.”
Ten Senators have yet to register a point. Four (Mike Fisher, Alex Kovalev, Milan Michalek and Nick Foligno) are regulars on the top two lines. Three others (Erik Karlsson, Chris Phillips, Chris Campoli) are among the Top 4 blueliners.
“Pazzy (Leclaire) has been our best player in the first three games,” said Jason Spezza, who has one goal. “We’ve got to play better for him, in front of him. Give him a little bit of run support. but he’s played real well,
“It’s three games,” Spezza added, in defence of the offence. “Let’s not get too carried away. We’ve got to score goals, and everything gets analyzed, but the goals will come.”
They better hurry up and get here.
WHO’S ON FOURTH?
The braintrust thinks it might be on to something, uniting Alex Kovalev, Peter Regin and Ryan Shannon. On paper, it would appear to be the new fourth line, but coach Cory Clouston and GM Bryan Murray thought it was the Senators’ best in Washington. Shannon and Regin led the team with five shots on goal, while Shannon sent the game into OT with his first goal, in his first game. In some corners, meanwhile, Kovalev is being held responsible for helping the other two raise their game. “You guys can call it whatever line you want and that’s fine,” said Clouston. “Yeah, he might go fourth in turn. But his minutes were not fourth-line minutes. I thought that line was one of our best lines the other night. They created offensive opportunities. Alex had two point-blank chances. I thought that line was really good, and he was part of it. If you asked me that question a game ago, I wouldn’t have been able to say a whole lot of positives, but that’s the same with everybody else. We didn’t have a lot of positives.”
After a poor start, Cory Clouston hopes D Erik Karlsson is on the verge of turning his game back in the right direction. Clouston said the 20-year-old, a standout for the Senators in the latter part of last season, showed his old form in the third period of Monday’s loss. “Maybe he didn’t realize he’s going to get that much attention and pressure on him (because of the way he played last season),” said Clouston. “Maybe he wasn’t ready for it. Sometimes young guys think it’s just going to happen. They forget how hard they had to work to make it happen for them. He’s got a lot of work to do. So does the rest of the team. But I thought he made a lot of strides last game.” Of course, Karlsson wouldn’t be the only player to struggle as a sophomore. Alex Ovechkin, for instance, only scored 46 goals his second season. That’s been his lowest total to date.
ICE CHIPSOf his missing bottom tooth, Daniel Alfredsson was asked if he pulled it himself during the summer. “I tried to but it didn’t go too well, so I went to a professional,” he said. The old string on the doorknob trick? “That’s the one I tried,” joked Alfredsson ... Winless droughts can get more attention, depending on the location of the team going through one. “At least we got a point in overtime. At least we’re on the board,” said Pascal Leclaire. “I think it’s way more talked about because we’re in Canada. There’s more people around the team and obviously, it is what it is around here.” ... Zack Smith will likely be the odd man out w while Jesse Winchester pulls into the Senators lineup and plays wing alongside Mike Fisher and Nick Foligno ... Thinking of going to the game? There will be no trouble getting tickets. As of Wednesday afternoon, 4,500 of them were still available.”
SENATORS: D Filip Kuba (broken leg) is out until November. HURRICANES: LW Sergei Samsonov (neck) is out indefinitely.