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Day in the park could be just what Senators need

by Dave Lozo
NEW YORK -- The Ottawa Senators decided to take it outside Wednesday morning.

The team was scheduled to practice at Chelsea Piers in downtown Manhattan, but instead opted for an "activity day" uptown at Lasker Rink, an outdoor venue in Central Park. Players traded in sticks for handballs and hockey pants for jeans on a chilly morning that was highlighted by a friendly game of dodgeball.

Well, friendly but competitive.

"There was some chirping. It was fun," left wing Nick Foligno said. "We thought they cheated, they thought we cheated. Whatever team cheated best usually wins, so it was competitive for sure."

"Best ice we've skated on all year," quipped center Mike Fisher.

The team arrived in New York just hours after a 6-1 drubbing at the hands of the Atlanta Thrashers. The injury-riddled Senators -- Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson are the two biggest names out of the lineup -- will look to avoid losing a sixth straight game when they face the New York Rangers on Thursday at Madison Square Garden.

Perhaps a little fun and a break from the norm might be what the Senators need.

"I think it was a lot of fun. We forgot about a lot of our problems right now," said goaltender Pascal Leclaire. "It was a great day. It's not every day you get a chance to do something like that. This morning we weren't sure what we were going to get into, but I think everybody had a lot fun. It's good just to change the routine a bit and be with everybody. I think that's what we needed."

There's nothing routine about an NHL player taking a handball breakaway against a New York City police officer, but that's what happened with Tim Cohn, who turned aside two of three Senators while using his nightstick as a goal stick. It was a thrill for the four-year member of the NYPD, a lifelong New York Islanders fan who was able to get a picture with Senators defenseman Chris Campoli, who spent four seasons with the Islanders.

"It was awesome," said Cohn, who had his sunglasses cracked in the line of goaltending duty. "I'll never forget it."

Perhaps Cohn is just the inspiration Leclaire needs. Acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets during the offseason, the 27-year-old goaltender has struggled in his first season with the Senators. His 3.07 goals-against average and his .890 save percentage are evidence of that, and he's allowed 12 goals in his last three starts, all losses.

Leclaire was pulled after one period against the Thrashers on Tuesday, after allowing three goals on 14 shots, but was open and affable about what is causing his struggles.

"I think goaltending is a lot in your head. I don't think I've changed too much technically in the last two weeks," Leclaire said. "I just think it's over-thinking. A day like today is a good time. You forget stuff and then you have fun and tomorrow I think we're all going to go to the rink with that same mind frame and trying to have fun and we'll take it from there."

It was a day for the players to be free from the coaches, who didn't make the trip to Central Park. One coach who won't be making any more trips with the Senators is Eli Wilson, who was relieved of his duties as goaltending coach while players were enjoying their mental rest day.

"Performance of the goaltenders in the organization had everything to do with it," said Senators GM Bryan Murray. "I think Eli was a hard worker and paid a lot attention to it, but for some reason, both at the NHL level and (AHL) level, we felt that the goaltenders weren't where we thought they were going to be and where they have shown they can be."

That reminder that the Sens' poor play was no laughing matter didn't hit the players until they hopped on the bus to return to their hotel. Leclaire spoke of Wilson in the present tense while at the rink, discussing how they had been watching video to help sharpen his game and erase the mistakes that have plagued him in the last few games.

One video of Leclaire that's sure to draw critiques from coaches and fans alike will be his imitation of a blossoming flower. Following the best-of-five dodgeball battle, Leclaire crawled into a little ball on the ice as his teammates circled him and chanted, "Flower! Flower! Flower!" That's when Leclaire slowly uncoiled, grew and became, yes, a flower.

It's tough to get more relaxed than that in front of teammates and media.

"I think that could be a season-changer for us," Fisher joked.
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