|Senators goaltender Pascal Leclaire is ready to put the misfortune of the 2009-10 season behind him and get started on a stronger campaign in the year ahead. A string of injuries limited Leclaire to 34 games last season but he finished out the year strongly with his performance in the playoffs (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
For a few months, at least, it made for some light-hearted fodder over a summer barbecue.
But just like that, Pascal Leclaire put behind them the "bad luck" that went a long way toward ruining his first season in an Ottawa Senators uniform. Now the 27-year-old goaltender is eager to begin writing the next chapter in his National Hockey League career.
With a much happier ending, he surely hopes.
"I take every year like it's a brand new season," Leclaire said earlier today after taking part in his first informal scrimmage with some of his Senators teammates. "Whatever happened last season, good or bad, it's gone. In sports, you've always got to prove yourself every year, so it's the same thing. There's no added pressure (on me) or anything like that.
"I'm just happy to be back and excited to play hockey. Last year gave us a good taste of what our team can maybe achieve this year. Maybe we'll go a little further. We'll start with training camp and see what happens."
Leclaire certainly gave himself a decent springboard into the 2010-11 campaign with the way he finished the last one. Most notably, he turned aside 56 shots — some of them of the highlight-reel variety — in backstopping the Senators to a 4-3 triple overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 5 of their opening-round Stanley Cup playoff series. It was his NHL post-season debut and it turned out to be the longest game in modern franchise history, with Leclaire establishing a new team post-season record for saves in a game.
While the Penguins ended the Senators' season two nights later, Leclaire gave team management more than a glimpse of the type of goaltending Ottawa thought it was getting when it obtained him from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2009 trade deadline. Entering the final season of his current contract, Leclaire hopes to show his bosses plenty more of the same in the season to come.
"It was fun to get to play," said Leclaire. "You want to be put into those situations. You want to be in the playoffs and you want to be a part of that. For me, it was my first experience and it gave me a good taste of it ... I know what I can do, so it doesn't really mean changing anything (for me). I'm just looking forward to playing again."
"I take every year like it's a brand new season. Whatever happened last season, good or bad, it's gone. In sports, you've always got to prove yourself every year, so it's the same thing. There's no added pressure (on me) or anything like that. I'm just happy to be back and excited to play hockey. Last year gave us a good taste of what our team can maybe achieve this year. Maybe we'll go a little further. We'll start with training camp and see what happens." - Pascal Leclaire
The native of Repentigny, Que., is also looking forward to renewing acquaintances with Senators goaltending coach Rick Wamsley. They initially teamed up shortly after the Blue Jackets made Leclaire a first-round pick (eighth overall) in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.
"I worked with Rick for four or five years in Columbus and we had a great relationship," said Leclaire. "He helped me a lot coming out of junior. He's a great teacher and I was really excited when I learned he was coming here to Ottawa. He's going to help us a lot. It's a great tool (for us) and we're lucky to have him on our team this year."
Now if only somebody can ensure Leclaire won't have to deal with the kind of misfortune that plagued him in 2009-10, when injuries limited him to 34 games worth of action. Leclaire posted a 12-14-2 record with a 3.20 goals-against average, numbers that saw him play second fiddle to Brian Elliott for much of the season.
But it wasn't just the injuries themselves, it was how they happened. On Nov. 23 in Washington, the Senators stopped took a game off to rest a minor knee ailment. But Leclaire was struck in the face by a puck while sitting on the bench, suffering a fractured cheekbone that kept him on the shelf for about a month.
A few weeks later, misfortune reared its head again when he took a shot to the forehead during the morning skate prior to a Jan. 14 matchup in New York against the Rangers. Leclaire suffered a concussion and watched the Senators ride first Binghamton callup Mike Brodeur, then Elliott to a team-record 11-game winning streak. Leclaire barely saw the net the rest of the way until the Senators were on the brink of elimination in the playoffs.
As frustrating as all of that was, at least Leclaire can smile about it now. He certainly got plenty of help in that regard from friends and family during the off-season.
"People laugh about it and I laugh about it, too," said Leclaire. "It'll be good stories (to tell) when I get older. People probably won't believe me. I get the old plastic surgery jokes and things like that.
"(It made for) good stories around the barbecue this summer. A lot of people laughed about it, but it is what it is. Hopefully, this year will be a clean slate, but you never know. We'll see."