|Senators goaltender Pascal Leclaire will make his first NHL regular-season start in 10 months when he moves between the pipes for Ottawa's season-opener against the Rangers on Saturday night (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images).
The date has been circled in Pascal Leclaire's mind since the Ottawa Senators' 2009-10 schedule first came out in July.
Saturday night, the Senators goaltender finally emerges from hockey limbo when he and his teammates face off against the Rangers in their much-anticipated season-opener at Madison Square Garden in New York (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).
For Leclaire, it'll be his first regular-season action since Dec. 18, 2008, when he was between the pipes for the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 5-4 overtime setback at the hands of the Dallas Stars.
Since then, the affable 26-year-old from Repentigny, Que., has undergone season-ending ankle surgery (in February) and was shipped to the Senators in a trade-deadline deal a month later.
Now, at least, it's time to turn the page on all of that and begin his new life as a Senator. Leclaire, as you can imagine, can't wait to get started into the next phase of his hockey career.
"It's been a long few months," he said after the Senators' final practice at the Bell Sensplex before jetting off to the Big Apple. "I think it'll be good just to get back into a regular-season game. When you’re on crutches for a long time and you get bored, you think ‘am I ever going to get there again?’ Finally, tomorrow comes and I think it’s going to be fun.
"I’m really looking forward to it. You look at the schedule when it comes out during the summer and you see the first game and you start to have a little focus on it ... I haven’t played in a while, so it’ll be fun."
The start of the National Hockey League season on Thursday night served to fuel that desire even further.
"It's been a long few months. I think it'll be good just to get back into a regular-season game. When you’re on crutches for a long time and you get bored, you think ‘am I ever going to get there again?’ Finally, tomorrow comes and I think it’s going to be fun. I’m really looking forward to it." - Pascal Leclaire
"It's all the real teams now. There's no more trying out stuff (like in the pre-season)," said Leclaire. "So I'm really excited. I kind of (watched) some games real quick last night and I thought the atmosphere and the intensity were good. I think we're all looking forward to starting for real."
His teammates are enthused about what Leclaire can do for them. They're confident the Senators are getting the goaltender who ranked among the NHL's top stoppers in 2007-08, when he posted a 24-17-6 record with a 2.25 goals-against average, .919 save percentage and nine shutouts with the Blue Jackets.
"There's a lot of question marks (about injuries) with Pascal, but I'm confident that as time goes on, he'll prove his critics wrong," said Senators defenceman Chris Campoli. "Pascal's pretty laid back, from what I've seen so far. His personality fits in well with the rest of the team, so it'll be good. Guys want to play in front of him."
Those who shoot on Leclaire on practice every day have also liked what they've seen.
"(Leclaire) is right back into it and he looks like he's having fun," said captain Daniel Alfredsson
. "For me, as a shooter, he's hard to read. He reminds me a little bit of (Dominik) Hasek that way. He tries to read you, rather than just being in position. He reads the game, which is impressive to see. He's definitely impressed me."