|With starting goaltender Pascal Leclaire sidelined for four weeks with a fractured cheekbone, Brian Elliott becomes the main man between the pipes for the Senators again (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
In Brian Elliott, the Ottawa Senators definitely trust.
With starting goaltender Pascal Leclaire on the shelf for a month, it'll be Elliott's net to guard for the most part as the Senators enter a particularly rugged stretch of their schedule. They'll play six of their next seven games on the road, including Wednesday night's matchup with the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center in Newark (7 p.m., TSN2, Team 1200).
"It’s kind of unexpected ... an unlucky chain of events," Elliott said of the circumstances that figure to put him in the Senators crease for the majority of the month ahead. "When an opportunity pops up, you want to take advantage of it. I think right now, the guys have confidence. (But) it’s going to be a long stretch of games – we play a lot of games in (a short period of time)."
Leclaire suffered a fractured cheekbone when struck by a puck on the bench during Monday night's dramatic 4-3 overtime victory over the Washington Capitals at Scotiabank Place. He's expected to be sidelined for at least four weeks, so it'll be up to Elliott and Binghamton call-up Mike Brodeur to carry the load for the time being.
"It's disappointing to (lose Leclaire) that way. He wasn't even in the game," Senators head coach Cory Clouston said after the team's practice earlier today at the Bell Sensplex. "But we'll make the best of it. (Elliott) has played well and this is a great opportunity for him ... He’s come into quite a few pressure situations already and responded very well, so he just needs to keep doing what he’s been doing."
In his second season with the Senators, Elliott has posted a 4-1-2 record with a 2.91 goals-against average and .902 save percentage. His teammates are confident that Elliott can carry the load for them in the weeks ahead.
"It's a chance for Brian to step in and play and get some regular time," said captain Daniel Alfredsson
. "He’s played really well when he’s been called upon and we feel comfortable with him playing, without question."
Elliott gave the Senators plenty of reason to think that last season, when he was a mid-season callup from Binghamton. By season's end, he'd seen action in 31 games – including two stretches of seven straight starts – and was the team's starting goaltender. Elliott finished 2008-09 with a 16-8-3 record, 2.77 GAA and .902 save percentage.
"I got thrown into the fire last year," said Elliott, the third-last player chosen in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft (ninth round, 291st overall). "That experience last year – playing a lot of games in a row and getting a lot of chances – will help me. Every time I go out on the ice, I feel a little more comfortable and a little more confident. Hopefully, that resonates to the rest of the guys and they play well in front of me."
Alfredsson agreed, saying "I think he’s a better goalie than he was last year because of his experience."
""I got thrown into the fire last year. That experience last year – playing a lot of games in a row and getting a lot of chances – will help me. Every time I go out on the ice, I feel a little more comfortable and a little more confident. Hopefully, that resonates to the rest of the guys and they play well in front of me." - Brian Elliott
"He’s looked really good since camp – both goalies have – and he knows he’s going to be the guy for the next few weeks. That will give him a little more confidence and little more ice time will probably make him better as well."
Elliott's tireless work ethic has helped his development as well, said Clouston.
"He’s always had a good work ethic, he really has," said Clouston. "And that’s allowed him to improve his game and work on the things he has to do structurally and technique-wise. That type of attitude has really helped him a lot."
The Senators, meanwhile, want to keep the momentum going. A four-game winning streak has propelled Ottawa (12-6-3) to the top of the Northeast Division standings and third overall in the torrid Eastern Conference race.
"I looked at it the other day and there are only two teams (Toronto and Carolina) in the whole conference with a losing record," said Alfredsson. "That’s pretty amazing. So every game is tough and you have to try to make the most of the momentum when you have it because it can go quick the other way."Around the boards
Centre Mike Fisher left practice early today, but Clouston said it was for "maintenance" reasons only and that he should be good to go against the Devils ... Forward Alex Kovalev, who has been back home in Russia for his mother-in-law's funeral, isn't expected to return in time for Wednesday's game ... The Senators are back at home Thursday night to face the Columbus Blue Jackets at Scotiabank Place. Fewer than 1,500 tickets
remain for the game.