Pascal Leclaire a bright spot for the Senators in rough start to season

TORONTO – For Ottawa Senators goaltender Pascal Leclaire, Saturday was a night of highs and lows.

Leclaire was easily the best Ottawa player, keeping his team in the game the first two periods despite the Senators being outshot 31-12 through 40 minutes against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Two saves in particular—a quick glove snag off a Kris Versteeg partial breakaway in the first and a pad save on Nikolai Kulemin at the end of a speedy two-on-one in the second—kept it from getting ugly early for Ottawa.

“Yeah, I felt good,” Leclaire said. “You want to come up with the extra saves to keep the game as close as possible.”

But the game ended in a 5-1 Leafs win with the Senators never really in the contest. Leclaire faced 38 shots, and without his strong play it could have been eight or nine goals against.

Despite now sporting an 0-2-0 record and having allowed seven goals against in two games to start the season, the Repentigny, Que., native is showing the stuff that landed him in Ottawa in the first place.

“It’s not easy, that’s for sure,” said Senators head coach Cory Clouston after the game, when asked what it’s like for a goalie when his team is playing poorly. “Pascal’s been very good. He didn’t have a lot of support last night (in a 2-0 loss to the Buffalo Sabres) or tonight.”

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Drafted eighth overall in 2001 by the Columbus Blue Jackets, the 27-year-old was traded to Ottawa in March of 2009 for forward Antoine Vermette and a second-round draft pick.

But injuries have plagued Leclaire’s Senators career. He was hurt when acquired and didn’t play a game for Ottawa that season. Last year he missed games with a concussion and a broken jaw, sustained when a puck hit him in the face while he was sitting on the bench during a game.

Leclaire finished with 34 sporadic regular season games and lost his No. 1 job to backup Brian Elliot, who led Ottawa on a mid-season 11-game winning streak and began the post-season as the starter.

But the top job seems to be Leclaire’s to lose this season, and so far he’s done nothing to cost himself the position.

“It happens,” Leclaire said when asked about facing so many shots (74 combined) the first two games. “There are stretches like that through the season, but it all equals out, it’s no big deal.”