Saturday, March 6, 2010
Despite Loss, Leclaire Redeems Himself In Epic Provincial Battle
Hands down, the most entertaining game of the Senators yo-yo like season.
This tilt had more interwoven story lines than a Raymond Chandler detective novel. And just like The Big Sleep, nobody is really sure what it all means in the end.
A game against the hated Leafs is always enough to sell tickets, but this one featured a Senators team so depleted by the flu, that players were puking their guts up on the bench in between shifts.
Binghamton forward Zack Smith was racing to Ottawa but was still late for a game that already had plenty of fireworks ignited before he managed to get into his equipment in time for the second period.
While not as hyped as that classic Tie Domi-Bob Probert rematch at Madison Square Garden back in the early 90's, a lot of minds were devoted to the possible bloodbath between the Leafs Colton Orr and the Sens Matt Carkner. As you well know, the last scrap ended with Carkner on his back flailing his arms towards the rafters in a state of wild confusion and pain. The rematch did occur but it was effectively a draw, despite the fact that Orr broke the code by challenging an already end-of-shift tired Carkner while he was fresh off the bench. Orr also cracked Brian Lee's skull into the end-glass for good measure (Lee was, remarkably, okay). As Orr left the ice, he held up three fingers for the split crowd, proclaiming himself the winner of three out of four bouts between the two. Orr was celebrating so hard that the only thing he forgot to do was chug a pitcher of beer on the way back to the bench ala Jon Montgomery. As expected, Orr was admonished by Don Cherry during Coach's Corner. Life goes on.
The grit displayed in the game was unreal. Vicious, exciting hits were landed, in particular by Chris Neil and Andy Sutton, and rarely did a play end without some kind of scrum and a glove in someone's grill.
And of course, the real story here was Pascal Leclaire, thrown on the garbage heap by Coach Clouston just two nights ago, and presumably left for dead as far as the rest of the season goes.
As fate would have it, Brian Elliott couldn't keep his date (flu) and Leclaire was given another unlikely shot to salvage at least his dignity in a season that has gone completely awry by any standard.
Leclaire did more than that. He more than likely gave Coach Clouston another sleepless night by playing so strongly that the whole damn situation has to be reassessed. Break out the Pepto.
Even myself, as optimistic a person around that Leclaire was going to be the number one goalie down the stretch, had decided to throw in the towel and declare Elliott as the only choice going forward. I questioned Leclaire's mental toughness.
Now I'm not so sure if it's my mental toughness that should be questioned. Leclaire did all the things a number one goalie needed to do. He kept his team alive despite the fact that they were literally falling apart as the game progressed. The third period was all Leafs as they took advantage of a team just barely hanging on. Leclaire was there.
So what happens now?
Clouston should throw Leclaire back in against Edmonton on Tuesday. Just to see what happens. Clouston already has Elliott in the bank. He knows he can depend on him to at least give adequate goaltending, even if he sits for a period of time.
In Leclaire, meanwhile, Clouston has an athlete who can potentially be much better than Elliott if only he could keep him healthy and confident for a meaningful stretch. Leclaire has that certain "thing" about him, perhaps just because he's a classic-style French-Canadian goaltender, that leads you to believe he can follow in the footsteps of a similar goalie like Marc-Andre Fleury.
But Clouston is one stubborn s.o.b. and it's anyone's guess who he'll go to next time.
Regardless, the game on Saturday night was one to remember, even if no one understands what the hell just happened out there.
Black Aces Senators 3 Stars
1. Pascal Leclaire
2. Matt Cullen
3. Chris Neil
Honourable mention: Erik Karlsson.
Black Aces Senators 3 Stars Season Scorecard
3 Points 1st Star
2 Points 2nd Star
1 Point 3rd Star
Alfredsson – 32
Elliott – 25
Kovalev – 25
Spezza – 22
Fisher – 20
Michalek – 16
Volchenkov – 15
Neil - 14
Phillips - 12
Leclaire – 11
Foligno – 10
Regin - 9
Ruutu - 8
Shannon – 8
Brodeur - 8
Winchester - 5
Kuba – 5
Kelly – 4
Karlsson - 4
Carkner – 3
Cullen - 2
Lee – 1
Donovan – 1
Cheechoo - 1