Senators' net pains piling up

Just as the Senators offence is starting to heat up, their goaltending has cooled off with Pascal...

Just as the Senators offence is starting to heat up, their goaltending has cooled off with Pascal Leclaire (above) hurt and Brian Elliott struggling. (DARREN BROWN/QMI Agency)

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:11 PM ET

Goaltending was the least of the Senators’ concerns.

Now it’s moved to the top of the list.

As the Senators made their way home Saturday after picking up 3-of-4 points during stops in Minnesota and Denver, they have to be wondering where their next save is going to come from.

They haven’t been getting enough lately.

Then there’s Pascal Leclaire’s latest injury.

It was no surprise he couldn’t start on Friday against the Avalanche in Denver — a 6-5 overtime loss — after suffering a lower-body injury in warmup.

This has been going on for Leclaire’s whole career, so it shouldn’t come as a shock that he couldn’t play when his team needed him.

Leclaire was coming off two straight wins for the first time since Dec. 28 of last season — including a 23-save performance in a 3-1 victory Thursday over the Minnesota Wild.

The decision to go back to Leclaire was supposed to be his road out of coach Cory Clouston’s doghouse.

Instead, all the troubled netminder did was dig himself an even bigger hole.

“It doesn’t really change our gameplan, but it doesn’t make it easy, that’s for sure,” said Clouston. “It doesn’t make it easy on anybody. We just have to play with the cards that we’re dealt.”

It doesn’t help that Brian Elliott — unfairly forced into duty when Leclaire skated over to the bench midway through warmup to inform the trainer he wasn’t playing — is struggling.

Elliott was told the night before he wasn’t going to start. Then, minutes before game time, he was thrown to the wolves against one of the NHL’s highest-scoring teams and ended up getting embarrassed.

No wonder Clouston was seething. “We didn’t get a save when we needed one,” said Clouston after the loss to the Avs.

You have to wonder what the Senators do now.

Just as the offence has found its form, Elliott has given up 14 goals in his last three appearances. He hasn’t won since Nov. 27 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The bigger concern is Leclaire.

After a day off a week ago Saturday, he wasn’t on the ice the next day because of what’s described as a lower-body injury.

He’s had groin problems in the past, so maybe that’s the issue. Who knows with this guy? Come to think of it, what part of his body hasn’t he injured? Neck, back, knee, hamstring, head, thumb, ankle, you name it. And Leclaire was acquired from Columbus last spring to be the Senators’ No. 1 goaltender.

There was a particularly scary moment for the Ottawa bench with 10 minutes left in the third on Friday. Elliott, who has had shoulder issues, took a shot from Jeff Winnick and needed attention from trainer Gerry Townend.

Leclaire started stretching on the bench, but sat down quickly because Elliott stayed in the game.

You’d expect that Elliott’s going to have to start against the Washington Capitals Sunday at Scotiabank Place.

“He’s fine,” said Clouston.

Elliott had better be. Clouston doesn’t have a lot of options. The Senators could renege on a promise to send Robin Lehner to join Sweden at the world juniors, but they don’t want to rush the 19-year-old and hamper his development.

The only hope is either Elliott gets his game together quickly or Leclaire stays off the trainer’s table long enough to put a few wins together.

As the Senators approach the two-day Christmas break, making the playoffs is looking a lot more difficult. It certainly doesn’t help when you can’t get a key save or have a goalie who can’t stop getting injured.

Goaltending wins championships.

The Senators would settle for goaltending winning them a game or two.

bruce.garrioch@sunmedia.ca


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