Pascal Leclaire

‘Worth the price of admission’: Ovechkin made presence felt in NHL debut

GR8NESS: OVI’S CHASE FOR 700: As Alex Ovechkin approaches 700 career NHL goals, PHT is going to examine all aspects of his goal-scoring prowess. We’ll break down and provide context for his amazing stats, project if he can top Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894, and take a look at his most important goals.

It was puck watching at its finest. Alex Ovechkin’s first NHL goal came due to an incredibly bad defensive breakdown by the Blue Jackets. 

As Dainius Zubrus skated toward the corner, four Blue Jackets were caught watching the puck, all while the Capitals rookie phenom waited between the circles. What happened next was goal No. 1 by a future Hall of Famer.

The debut of a ‘special player’

Oct. 5, 2005 was an historic night for the NHL. All 30 teams played on the same day for the first time in league history, a big way to return after the season-long 2004-05 lockout. Ovechkin made his debut for the Capitals and we saw the first ever regular season shootout when the Senators beat the Maple Leafs 3-2.

For Blue Jackets goaltender Pascal Leclaire, that night was meaningful as well. It was the first time in his young professional career that he began the season in the NHL. The No. 8 overall pick in the 2001 draft spent parts of three seasons with AHL Syracuse. He made two starts in Columbus in 2003-04 but earned a bigger workload in 2005-06 as he shared the net with Marc Denis.

The scouting report the Blue Jackets had on Ovechkin was that he was an explosive player, one to certainly keep an eye on. But as Leclaire told Sportsnet in 2017, hev was focusing more on his own game and they weren’t expected for the Russian rookie to make his presence felt that soon into the start of his career.

“I think right off the bat you could see he was a special player,” Leclaire told The Washington Post in 2016. “For me, I’m not surprised at all that he’s had the career he’s having so far. It just made sense. Special players are special players and you can see it pretty early on how good they are.”

[MORE: Ovechkin’s chase for 700 continues vs. Avs Thursday on NBCSN]

The memorable first shift

While the offensive side would show itself later, Ovechkin first NHL shift gave us a glimpse into the physical presence he possessed. 

A Rick Nash shot caromed around the boards and deep into the Blue Jackets’ zone 30 seconds into the game. Ovechkin saw he could potentially win the puck so he began sprinting from his own blue line to beat Radoslav Suchy. The Columbus defenseman had possession for about two seconds before the Capitals rookie laid a big hit, knocking loose a stanchion behind the net.

Not done yet

It took Ovechkin 441 seconds to record his first NHL goal. We didn’t have to wait long for No. 2 as 270 later he delivered the first of his 259 power play goals.

“He was worth the price of admission tonight,” said Blue Jackets head coach Gerard Gallant afterward. “He was real good.”

Now here we are — fifteen years and 696 goals later. Ovechkin is on the cusp of history and a legitimate threat to break Wayne Gretzky’s NHL goals record of 894. He’s reached 50 goals eight times (this season will more than likely be the ninth), hit 60 once, and the fewest goals he scored in one season was 32, which he reached twice, including during the lockout-shortened 48-game 2013 campaign.

Oct. 5, 2005 was the beginning of something special. Ovechkin has his Stanley Cup, his Richard Trophies, his Harts. No. 895 is possible as he rises to the occasion.

“He’s pretty well been groomed for this,” said Capitals head coach Glen Hanlon via the Washington Times in 2005. “The bigger the moment, the bigger he’s going to play.

“He thrives on it — as all the great ones do.”

MORE OVECHKIN:
By the Numbers: Ovechkin’s 698 NHL goals
Stunning Numbers as Alex Ovechkin closes in on 700 goals 

My Favorite Goal: Ovechkin scores ‘The Goal’ as a rookie in 2006
NHL Power Rankings: Ovechkin’s top 10 goals
Can Alex Ovechkin break Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894 goals?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Pascal Leclaire calls it a career

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Former Columbus Blue Jackets and Ottawa Senators goalie Pascal Leclaire has announced his retirement at the age of 30.

Leclaire, taken eighth overall by Columbus at the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, cited a recurring hip injury as the reason for hanging up his skates.

That an injury ended his career isn’t all that surprising — Leclaire dealt with health issues throughout his seven years in the NHL…

— 2006-07: Missed over 40 games with a knee injury.
— 2008-09: Missed over 40 games with an ankle injury.
–2009-10: Missed over 20 games with a concussion and broken jaw.
— 2010-11: Missed over 40 games with the aforementioned hip injury.

Leclaire also had three surgeries performed last season — which he sat out entirely — to try and correct the hip issue, but to no avail.

It’s a sad ending to a once promising career. Leclaire appeared destined for good things when, in 2007-08, he finished second in the NHL with nine shutouts, seventh in GAA (2.25) and 11th in save percentage (.919).

That season also marked the first time Columbus eclipsed the 80-point plateau in franchise history.

Leclaire was traded to Ottawa at the 2009 trade deadline and briefly held the Sens starting gig. The highlight of his time in the Canadian capital came during an opening-round playoff loss to Pittsburgh in 2010 — Leclaire was brilliant in Ottawa’s triple-OT Game 5 win, stopping 56 of 59 shots, finishing as the game’s first star.

Jaroslav Halak blanks Habs in return to Montreal

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For a goalie with a rather bland style, Jaroslav Halak sure has a flair for the dramatic.

Surely Montreal Canadiens fans must have seen flashes of the goalie who helped them claw their way to the 2010 Eastern Conference finals tonight, as he helped the St. Louis Blues shut out his former team 3-0.

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Halak didn’t exactly a break much of a sweat as he needed just 19 saves in the game, but at least he had highlight moments like that breakaway stop on Tomas Plekanec. Carey Price helped Habs fans get over Halak’s departure with a superior season in 2010-11 and it was probably even to start off this year, but Lou Korac points out Halak’s dramatic improvement with Ken Hitchcock in charge:

source:

In Hitchcock’s most recent coaching stint, both Pascal Leclaire and Steve Mason put together single-season runs that helped them make a ton of money that some might argue they didn’t really deserve.*

Halak already received a big payday thanks to his enthralling playoff run, but he might just earn those big bucks with Hitchcock watching from the bench – even if every night isn’t as exciting as this Tuesday in Montreal.

* – People tend to forget that Leclaire notched nine shutouts the season (2007-08) before Mason won the Calder Trophy with 10 of his own.

Pascal Leclaire’s ailing hip leaves him longing for a NHL job this summer

We’ve seen most free agent goalies find their way this summer save for a pair of guys. Marty Turco and Pascal Leclaire are the two NHL-experienced guys we haven’t seen land a new job around the league and while a guy like Ray Emery gets a shot to win a spot with the Blackhawks, both Turco and Leclaire are left wondering what’s going on.

While Turco’s case is a bit more curious given that he’s healthy and able to play, Leclaire’s free agency is a bit more perilous. Leclaire’s season came to an end last year thanks to an injured hip and while injuries are nothing new in his career this time around it’s keeping him from staying involved in the NHL.

Ken Warren of the Ottawa Citizen catches up with Leclaire and finds out that his surgically repaired hip isn’t responding the way he’d like it to.

A free agent offer in July from an NHL team — he won’t say which one — fell through when he couldn’t pass the medical tests. Considering the small world that is the NHL, it didn’t take long for the word to spread.

“It’s frustrating, but it will be much more frustrating when (training camps) get started,” Leclaire said Tuesday, following an informal scrimmage with some of his former Senators teammates and other NHL players who call Ottawa home.

“There has been some progress [with his hip], but it’s not good enough to play at the NHL level,” he said. “The league is too good to try and go at 80 per cent … I don’t even know if I’m 80 per cent.”

Seeing Leclaire deal with this problem while another guy like Ray Emery continues his comeback from a degenerative hip condition that saw a radical surgery get him back on the ice makes for a bizarre coincidence for the former Senators goalies. Making it even harder for Leclaire is seeing that he had an offer to play but wasn’t healthy enough to get the deal done. At his age (29 years-old) and his status as a former first round pick of the Blue Jackets (8th overall in 2001) makes it a bit sadder to see his career essentially wind up in a stand-still.

That said, it’s not as if his career is over it’s just that his chances of earning an NHL team’s confidence in him take another hit thanks to his struggle in coming back from this latest setback. His injury history in the NHL is extensive from his time both in Columbus and Ottawa and with how slow his rehab is taking him now, a team will need to be in a tough spot to rely on him as an NHL-level guy again. You certainly can’t view him as a potential starter without proof he can handle the workload and wanting him to be a backup is tough because if he gets hurt again his team would be back at square one.

For now, Leclaire will just have to stick to it and keep trying to get back to 100%. If he can do that, he’ll find a way back in the league. If not, his story might end up being an unfortunate one.

Assessing the bottom of the barrel: Which remaining unrestricted free agents are worth a look?

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With September training camps just a few weeks away, the game of musical chairs is almost over for the remaining unrestricted free agents out there. Granted, there might be future opportunities during the 2011-12 season itself, but that’s probably not a very appetizing possibility for the guys who are hoping to pull in another NHL contract.

To be fair, there aren’t a lot of no-brainers left. Some might argue that there are none. That being said, if NHL general managers are willing to keep their expectations in order, there are still a few players out there who could help their teams or might at least be worth a shot.

With that in mind, here are a few of the more interesting free agents looking for work. This list is wholly subjective, so if you want a full view of everyone available, click here. If you notice a glaring omission, then it might come down to your own personal taste about a given hockey player. It’s probably worth noting that there are only a couple players whose lack of employment surprises me, though.

Let’s start with the guys who might not make a huge splash, but can do dirty work.

John Madden – This guy might be the most deserving of an NHL job. Sure, he’s getting up there in years at 38, but he shouldn’t come at a high cost and has three Stanley Cup victories (two with New Jersey, one with Chicago) on his resume.

More important than the Cups – to me, at least – is his versatility. He won’t knock your socks off with his offensive output (25 points in 2010-11; 23 in both 09-10 and 08-09), but he can be a moderate threat on the PK and plays a lot of the tough minutes that can open doors for your star players. I wondered if he really dropped off the map that badly in Minnesota, but he was their top forward when it came to shorthanded time per game (2:27 minutes) and only missed six games last season.

source: APAny number of contenders could use a player like Madden if he’s OK with signing a cheapish deal. Mike Grier brings some similar strengths to the table, but I’d take Madden over Grier at this point.

Paul Mara – He’s a limited player no doubt, but there are certain defensemen I like to refer to as “inning eaters.” Mara might not be sublimely talented – and worse yet, he’s injury prone – but teams with thinner defense corps would benefit from his size and experience. And while it might feel like it happened ages ago, Mara does have two 40+ point seasons to his name.

Cory Stillman – It’s a slight bit surprising that the familiarity-centric Carolina Hurricanes didn’t bring Stillman back after he scored a solid 16 points in 21 games after the team reacquired him last season.

J.P. Dumont – Sure, he’s on the decline, but why not give the six-time 20+ goal scorer a chance if he’s willing to sign a  cheap deal?

More talented players with more troubling flaws

Bryan McCabe – Anything bad someone could say about McCabe has already been covered with extra buckets of vitriol by Toronto Maple Leafs writers and fans. Still, he can run a power play well and isn’t afraid to get physical when he’s not committing terrible turnovers.

Sergei Samsonov – Offensively talented, but not enough to camouflage his issues in other areas on the ice. That being said, he seems to do well when he knows it’s time to prove himself; he scored a solid 14 points in the 20 games he spent with the Florida Panthers after being traded.

Chris Campoli – A lot like a younger Bryan McCabe, only if you replaced the hits with superior skating ability. I’m not a huge fan of Campoli, but it seems like someone should give him a shot, right? Maybe?

Fascinating gambles

Pascal Leclaire – Almost certainly a flash in the pan at this point, but seems worthy of at least a two-way contract if Brian Elliott can earn one of his own.

Steve Bernier – Remember when people referred to Jonathan Bernier as Steve’s younger brother? Chances are good that Steve will be a footnote in Jonathan’s career when it’s all over instead.

Other noteworthy names: Marty Turco, Kyle Wellwood, Mike Modano and more.

Feel free to mention any UFAs who might be worth a small gamble for prospective NHL teams.