The road woes continued for the Ottawa Senators on their recent swing through Western Canada; picking up a 4-1 victory in Edmonton before dropping the next two in Calgary (2-0) and Vancouver (5-1). With a quick stop at home for a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight, Ottawa hits the road again with stops in Atlanta, Dallas and Montreal. Posting a win/loss record of 1-4-1 since the Olympic break, the Senators are in desperate need of victories, as their chances of catching the Buffalo Sabres for first in the Northeast Division slip away.
Ottawa remains in the hunt for a playoff position, thanks in large part to their franchise record winning streak in February, but the rest of the Eastern Conference is catching up. In need of finding the hot-hand in nets, Cory Clouston goes back to Brian Elliott for tonight’s game versus Toronto. Elliott picked up the victory in Edmonton and stopped 23 shots in the loss to Calgary; Leclaire was in goal for the loss in Vancouver. Since the beginning of January, Elliott has played in 22 of Ottawa’s 28 games. With a win/loss record of 23-15-3, a goals against average of 2.56 and a .909 save percentage, it is fair to say that Elliott is the favourite to be between the pipes when (and if) the Senators begin the playoffs.
Fans in Ottawa were relieved and hopeful that Bryan Murray had solved the team’s goaltending woes when he acquired Pascal Leclaire from Columbus in exchange for Antoine Vermette. Leclaire was injured at the time of the trade but many believed he was the goaltender the team had been waiting for – a legitimate number one, ready to carry the weight of fan expectations. Unfortunately, for Sens fans and Leclaire himself, a series of bizarre injuries this year has left him struggling to regain the consistency he demonstrated in the 2007-2008 season with the Blue Jackets. During that season in Columbus, Leclaire played in 54 games, posting a 2.25 goals against average, a .919 save percentage and recording a career high nine shutouts. Very different from this year’s numbers in Ottawa, an 11-12-2 record, a 3.07 goals against and a .891 save percentage.
Moving forward, Clouston and the players are looking to regain a sense of “urgency” in their play. Despite Leclaire’s poor numbers this season, the five goals he allowed in Vancouver was more of a reflection of the team in front of him, not Leclaire himself. The Senators came out flat against the Canucks; Vancouver was playing their first home game since their record road trip and was looking to put on a show for the home crowd, which they did. Perhaps the Senators are still recovering from the flu that ran rampant through the team before the road trip or they began to believe they were a top team in the East and did not have to work too hard and coast into the playoffs. Regardless of the factors contributing to the recent slide, the clock is ticking on the current NHL season and the Senators must regain their winning attitude.
Clouston addressed the issue with the media in Ottawa upon their return to the nation’s capital (audio available at the Senators website).
“We just have to play a little bit more urgent, we were playing like we had something to lose and we built up such, I don’t want to say a big cushion for the playoffs, but we relaxed a little bit. We’ve got to start treating these games like playoff games and we discussed that this morning.”
In other Senators news, Brian Lee has returned to Binghamton in the AHL with the return of Chris Campoli from a knee injury (sprained MCL). Nick Foligno also makes his return after breaking a bone in his leg January 30th in a game against the Montreal Canadiens. In tonight’s match-up against Toronto, Foligno will join the top line with Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek. Overshadowing the good news was the announcement that Mike Fisher is day-to-day with an “upper body injury”.