|After battling injuries through a large portion of the season, goaltender Pascal Leclaire came up big when it counted in the final two games of the Senators' first-round playoff series with the Penguins (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
Pascal Leclaire would surely agree his debut season with the Ottawa Senators was anything but the smoothest of rides.
Seemingly unable to avoid the injury bug until the final weeks of the 2009-10 campaign, Leclaire was limited to 34 games worth of action. Not exactly what the Senators — or the 27-year-old native of Repentigny, Que., for that matter — had in mind when he was obtained from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the National Hockey League trade deadline a year ago.
"There were some ups and downs, definitely, and a few disappointments with some injuries ... some bad luck in there," Leclaire said in summing up a season that produced a 12-14-2 record to go along with a 3.20 goals-against average and .887 save percentage. "There were a couple of rough patches through the season.
"But the last part of the year, it did finish okay, (especially) the last couple of games. I was hoping to have a better season and it didn't happen. Hopefully, next year will be better."
The finish certainly provided a lot of extra fuel for that hope. Pressed into duty in Game 5 of the Senators' first-round playoff series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Leclaire turned aside 56 shots — a franchise post-season record — as Ottawa kept its season alive with a 4-3 triple overtime triumph at Mellon Arena.
Though it all ended two nights later with a 4-3 OT loss at Scotiabank Place, Leclaire was again a standout, this time stopping 39 of the 43 shots he faced. Quite the two-game performance for a player seeing his first career Stanley Cup playoff action.
"There were some ups and downs, definitely, and a few disappointments with some injuries ... some bad luck in there. There were a couple of rough patches through the season. But the last part of the year, it did finish okay, (especially) the last couple of games. I was hoping to have a better season and it didn't happen. Hopefully, next year will be better." - Pascal Leclaire
"He went in at the end when we were in a desperation mode and I thought he did a heck of a job in both games," said Senators general manager Bryan Murray. "I think he showed the type of goaltender that he is and I hope that it carries over (into next season)."
Added Leclaire: "It was good for me to get a chance to play and get some playoff experience. It was a fun challenge."
Unfortunately for Leclaire and the Senators, injuries prevented him from getting much of an opportunity to display that kind of goaltending throughout the regular season. But these were anything but your normal maladies.
On Nov. 23 in Washington, the Ottawa netminder decided to take 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. Not only did Leclaire suffer a concussion, the Senators started an 11-game winning streak that night behind Binghamton callup Mike Brodeur. Brian Elliott recorded the last nine victories and carried the bulk of the load the rest of the way.
Leclaire, meanwhile, didn't get another start until March 4 and went another month without a victory, until his April 6 win in Florida against the Panthers, his first since Dec. 31. It was beyond frustrating, to say the least.
"He had some injuries that, unless you've been in that situation ... it's hard to battle," said Senators head coach Cory Clouston. "Sometimes you start feeling 'why me?' You're sitting on the bench because you hurt your knee a little bit and you get a puck in the face. Now the next thing you know, you're out for the next month. You come back and you get one in the forehead in warmup ... that's tough, it really is.
"Pascal kind of got put on the shelf for a while (this season). But he’s a good goaltender. He’s a competitive guy. Hopefully, he has a great summer. I think conditioning and all those things we always talk to players about are important. He’s got another year with us and he has a chance to prove that he can be the top dog. And we’ll give him that chance." - Bryan Murray
"You're not able to train and get your conditioning and timing where it (needs to be), especially with a concussion. You just sit there and wait until you're able to train. That's probably the worst injury you can have for a guy like him. You can't stay sharp, you can't work on your conditioning, your strength or your timing. You just basically sit there. It starts to play on your mind, it really does."
But Leclaire, who's battled injuries throughout his career, is more than ready to file this season behind him and move on. With his contract expiring after the coming campaign, Leclaire knows a crucial year now awaits him and that he'll likely face a hot training camp competition with Elliott for the starting job.
"I don't take anything for granted," said Leclaire. "I'm going to come in (to camp) like I tried to do the last few months, just take it day by day and see what happens. I've got a big summer ahead of me and I have to make sure I'm in good shape.
"It's the same story every year. You're only as good as your last game and it changes pretty quick. I definitely lived it this year and I'll come back next year, take one day at a time and see what happens."
Said Murray: "Pascal kind of got put on the shelf for a while (this season). But he’s a good goaltender. He’s a competitive guy. Hopefully, he has a great summer. I think conditioning and all those things we always talk to players about are important. He’s got another year with us and he has a chance to prove that he can be the top dog. And we’ll give him that chance."