|Brian Elliott is the centre of attention in net for the Senators again with Pascal Leclaire still on the sidelines with a lower-body injury that will likely keep him from being available for Thursday night's game in Nashville (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images).
It's the most Canadian of games in one of the country's biggest hockey hotbeds.
And Brian Elliott knows full well that means there truly is no escaping the microscope that watches him ever so closely whenever he tends goal for the Ottawa Senators.
"It's just the nature of the game, playing in Canada," the 25-year-old native of Newmarket, Ont., said earlier today with an eye toward Thursday night's road matchup against the Nashville Predators (8 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200). "There's a lot of pressure and we've got to embrace that pressure, play with it and know that if we handle that pressure, it's going to be positive for the franchise."
With Pascal Leclaire (lower body) most likely unavailable for the Senators' final game before the Christmas break, the glare figures to shine even more brightly on Elliott. After practice at Scotiabank Place earlier today, Ottawa head coach Cory Clouston all but ruled Leclaire out of Thursday's game, meaning Mike Brodeur would be recalled from the Binghamton Senators to back up Elliott against the Preds.
"(Leclaire) has made some strides," said Clouston. "He feels better today than he did yesterday, but not enough to give us optimism that he'll be ready for Nashville."
Clouston added he doesn't believe Leclaire's latest bout with the injury bug is serious enough to require surgery or keep him out of the lineup for an extended period.
"It's not that type of injury and it's not that severe," said Clouston. "At least right now it's not."
All of which means that the Senators plan to ride Elliott for the time being. And Clouston acknowledged that "because of Pascal's injury, the spotlight does go on him a lot more."
But Elliott, for one, doesn't believe that situation ratchets up the pressure because he's essentially being asked to carry the ball on his own with Leclaire out of the lineup.
"It's just the nature of the game, playing in Canada. There's a lot of pressure and we've got to embrace that pressure, play with it and know that if we handle that pressure, it's going to be positive for the franchise." - Brian Elliott
"The past couple of years here, it's been basically (a case of) you're fighting for your spot," he said. "There's no difference right now. It's just that I don't know what (Leclaire's) situation is. I just try to play and get as many wins as we can. This last game before the break, we want to have a positive game and go forward from there."
That might sum up the feelings of an entire team that badly needs to get on a roll if it is going to challenge for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Senators (14-17-4) stand 10th in the East, six back of the Boston Bruins, who currently hold the eighth and final post-season. They're nine behind the seventh-place New York Rangers.
"We’ve showed signs where we’ve played really well, especially against some of the better teams," said captain Daniel Alfredsson
. "It’s just that we haven’t been able to put it together for as long a period of time as we would like."
Added centre Mike Fisher: "We have to be better and just be solid at both ends of the rink. We all know the situation and we've got to be better."
Around the boards
The Senators blanked the Predators 2-0 the last time they visited Bridgestone Arena in Nashville (Feb. 16, 2009) ... Thursday's contest will also mark the 1,400th game in modern franchise history ... Centre Chris Kelly is on a five-game point-scoring streak (two goals, four assists), while defenceman Erik Karlsson
has eight points (2-6) in his last seven games ... After a two-day National Hockey League shutdown for Christmas, the Senators return home to face the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday night (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200).