While appearing on The Program Podcast Wednesday, I discussed the Northeast Division and made some (tentative) predictions. When the Ottawa Senators came up, we all agreed that one of the team’s biggest weaknesses will probably be in net.
There’s nothing especially wrong with Brian Elliott, but let’s face it, he’s average at best on most nights. The team might be able to scrape by with the decidedly average* goalie, but deep down, many Sens fans (and probably a few suits) hope that Pascal Leclaire will “figure it out.”
*People assume “average” is an insult, but it’s not meant to be … to a point. Elliott really is making the most of his career and talents, so I don’t begrudge him for being so-so. That just happens to be the only honest way to describe him.
Glass half-full types will point to Leclaire’s breakout season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, when he went 24-17-6 with a 2.25 GAA, a 91.9 save percentage and an outstanding nine shutouts during the 2007-08. They might also point to the fact that he helped the Senators win a ridiculous three-OT game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the playoffs. Negative Nancys, however, will call it the “One Year Ken Hitchock Effect,” pointing to Steve Mason’s flash-in-the-pan rookie year and also the fact that Leclaire has been atrocious since then (88.7 save percentage in 09-10 and 86.7 in only 12 games during 08-09).
However you slice it, Leclaire admits that he needs to improve next season. He spoke to the Canadian Press about how he feels about 10-11.
But after having a full off-season to prepare, the native of Repentigny, Que., is back and ready to take another run at proving that he’s capable of being that guy, or at least something close to it.
“I worked hard during the summer and we’ll see what happens,” Leclaire said Friday from Scotiabank Place, where the Senators opened their training camp with medicals and fitness testing. “The injuries — you guys are going to have new questions this year because it’s always the same stuff. I’m going to repeat the same thing all the time. Things happen and I can deal with them as best as possible. It’s a new season every year, you always have to start over and this year’s no different.”
Unlike a year ago, when he was coming off ankle surgery that had kept him out for the better part of eight months leading up to his Ottawa debut, he’s had a full off-season to prepare and is ready to work with Brian Elliott, the player who took over the Senators’ No. 1 role during last season.
“The big thing is to be feeling good on the ice and in the last month or so, speaking for myself, I felt good out there, even if it’s only summer hockey,” said Leclaire.
Well, he’s not exactly promising the world, but this season could be a pivotal one for the highly paid (and highly disappointing) former Blue Jacket. The Senators are banking on Leclaire and Elliott to help them grind their way into the playoffs, so a healthy and focused would increase their chances substantially.
And, really, he can’t be much worse than he was in the last two seasons, right?