PITTSBURGH — It’s obvious Robin Lehner does not scare easily.
A promising puckstopper in the Senators organization, he was at Scotiabank Place Wednesday morning and barely batted an eye at the scene. He even seemed cool, calm and collected as he spoke with assistant GM Tim Murray in one of the haunted hallways.
And as he watched Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott take their turns on the stand to answer questions from the prying Ottawa media, well, Lehner did not at all look like he had seen a ghost.
Get this: It even appeared as though he relished the opportunity to be in their shoes!
Foolish young man, eh? He’ll learn. He’ll discover soon enough what has already been found out by the likes of Patrick Lalime, Ray Emery, Damian Rhodes, Tom Barrasso, Ron Tugnutt, Dominik Hasek, Martin Gerber and Martin Prusek.
We’re talking about the fact that Ottawa is a goalie graveyard, of course.
What else can you call it?
Consider the facts:
Hasek’s Hall of Fame career was interrupted by a mysterious adductor injury when he was a Senator. Gerber went from being a much sought- after ’keeper as a Carolina Hurricane to a guy the Senators signed, watched flop, then couldn’t give away.
Barrasso won a pair of Cups in Pittsburgh before he fizzled out in Ottawa.
Lalime, who owns most of the franchise’s goaltending records of excellence, was at his very best in April of 2002.
After a 1-0 loss in the opener of a first-round playoff series with Philly, he posted three consecutive shutouts to put his name in the NHL record books. He won Game 5 to finish the series with just two goals against.
And just two years later, he was so bad on two shots in a Game 7 against Toronto that the team decided it could not, in right conscience, bring him back to camp the following September.
As a rookie, Emery did an admirable job in the 2006 playoffs after Hasek pulled the chute, then was good enough to help the Senators to the Cup final the next year.
He missed the following training camp with an injury, and when he was ready to play, he figured he’d be handed his No. 1 job back. When that didn’t happen, Emery was ticked. He became such a distraction that the Senators had to buy him out.
Elliott and Leclaire are the latest victims. Once confident and courageous ’tenders themselves, the pair now often play like they’re hoping the puck hits them.
In his second season and first NHL playoffs, Elliott has one victory and embarrassing numbers. He was yanked before the midway mark of a must-win Game 4 against the Penguins after giving up four goals on 19 shots. The injury-prone Leclaire — who received a not-so-subtle message of where he stood on the totem pole when coach Cory Clouston pulled him after he gave up two goals on five shots in his first start in almost two months back in March — was asked to stem the tide Tuesday. He stopped 20-of-23 shots, but did not look good on Pittsburgh’s last goal. Had he gone 23-for-23, he might be getting some consideration as the starter for Thursday’s elimination-facing road game.
The heavy betting is Clouston will go back to Elliott.
“I think you have no choice but to go back to Elliott,” said Tugnutt, a goalie coach with the Oshawa Generals. “Pascal hardly played down the stretch, right? Basically, I think the statement was Elliott’s our guy, he’s the one who got us into the playoffs, it’s his job to get us back in the series.”
As someone who saw his first playoff action the first year the Senators qualified for the post-season, he wonders if Elliott might be over-preparing for the games.
“Everyone at the beginning of a playoff will say it’s no big deal, he’s playing well, he’s going to be able to do it, but the playoffs are a whole new ball of wax,” said Tugnutt. “You can’t just say tomorrow will be a better day. Bottom line is now you’re in a hole. “At the end of the day you have to be able to control your emotions and basically come to the game, be able to relax, and play it.”
Tugnutt chuckles at the “goalie graveyard” reference.
“The record kind of shows itself,” he admits. “The goalie is always the first guy to be blamed. In New Jersey, (Martin) Brodeur has established himself. He may not be playing outstanding, but yet they say it’s not his fault. Because he’s Marty Brodeur. Same thing with (Roberto) Luongo in Vancouver. But if you think about it, there’s always a new goalie in Ottawa.”
Tugnutt feels for Elliott. It’s also his opinion that the coaching staff should have stuck with Leclaire a little longer than March 4.
“Good for Elliott for grabbing the No. 1 job, but at the end of the day is he supposed to be the guy leading this team right now?” said Tugnutt. “He’s a rookie, basically, whether he played enough games last year or not. They brought in someone else to do the job, they’re paying him a lot of money, and he lost his job. Sometimes you just have to basically stick with your guy, come hell or high water. I always said if you go get a guy, and his job is to do that job, you have to give him the opportunity to do that, or else you maybe made a mistake in your selection of guys to bring in.
“Elliott or whoever their guy is has to be great to win the series, because they’re playing a helluva good hockey team.”
Soon enough, Robin Lehner, all this could be yours.