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A 'great challenge' for Leclaire

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Pascal Leclaire of the Senators will happily share the goaltending spotlight on Saturday night with the New Jersey Devils' Martin Brodeur, one of his idols while growing up in Quebec (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images).

On any other night, Pascal Leclaire might be leading the cheers as Martin Brodeur attempts to put his name into the history books one more time.

But the Ottawa Senators goaltender won't show up at Scotiabank Place on Saturday night intending to worship one of his goaltending idols. Instead, Leclaire will do his level best to backstop his teammates to a victory over the New Jersey Devils (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

With 102 career shutouts, Brodeur is one goose egg away from matching the legendary Terry Sawchuk's all-time National Hockey League record in that category. His 565 victories in 16-plus seasons with the Devils are already the most in NHL history.

While Leclaire can't say enough good things about the 37-year-old Brodeur, he relishes the chance to match wits with one of the goaltenders he grew up idolizing in Montreal (he wears the number of the biggest one, former Canadiens legend Patrick Roy). It only happened once during four previous seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"In Columbus, we didn’t play them a whole lot," said Leclaire. "It happened three years ago. I think we lost 2-1. It was a pretty big deal (for me) to play against one of my idols.

"Tomorrow will be a little bit different. I’m older now but he’s a big name and he’s still one of the best – if not the best – goalies in the league. It’s a great challenge."

Some way for a guy to celebrate his 27th birthday, don't you think?

Challenge might also sum up what the Senators will collectively face against the Devils (9-4-0), who are a perfect 7-0-0 on the road and hold down fifth spot in the Eastern Conference standings. That's two points better than Ottawa (7-4-2), which is coming off a 3-2 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night.

"They're a very disciplined, structured team," Senators head coach Cory Clouston said after the team's practice earlier today at Scotiabank Place. "They've got a very, very dangerous line (Zach Parise, Travis Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner) and a world-class goaltender.

"They play tonight (at home against the New York Islanders), so we'll get a little better idea of what they're doing and be able to focus more on them after tonight. But we have a very good awareness of what they're going to bring. Discipline, for sure."

"In Columbus, we didn’t play them a whole lot. It happened three years ago. I think we lost 2-1. It was a pretty big deal (for me) to play against one of my idols. Tomorrow will be a little bit different. I’m older now but he’s a big name and he’s still one of the best – if not the best – goalies in the league." - Pascal Leclaire
Any conversation about the Devils, though, begins and ends with their biggest constant. And try as he might, Leclaire will no doubt find it difficult to avoid admiring the work of Brodeur, whose NHL career now spans more than 1,000 games.

"His longevity is amazing," said Leclaire. "He's one of the best in history. I don't know what he does (to keep playing so long), but I'm sure he's doing something really good."

Leclaire naturally doesn't want it to happen Saturday night, but he'll applaud Brodeur the night he adds the career shutout mark to his NHL lore.

"Shutouts are a little bit of luck," he said. "You play some good teams and you have some good games. It's always different. But when you (have) that many of them, it speaks to the quality of the goaltender that he is. If there's a guy who's going to be on top, it might as well be him because he's a really nice guy.

"For us young kids, we grew up watching him and he was such a nice example for us."

Around the boards

Forward Milan Michalek didn't practise today but Clouston expects him to be in the lineup on Saturday night ... With Jesse Winchester now back in Ottawa and Jason Spezza healthy enough to return to the lineup, Clouston faces the game-night chore of deciding which two forwards to sit out. But he acknowledges that it's a nice problem to have. "It’s healthy competition and it’s depth," he said. "It’s tough decisions but it’s easier (in that) when you have an injury, you’ve got guys ready to step right in." ... Fewer than 2,000 tickets remain for Saturday's game against the Devils ... The Binghamton Senators, Ottawa's top affiliate in the American Hockey League, meet the Hamilton Bulldogs (Montreal) in a 3 p.m. matchup Sunday at Scotiabank Place.

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