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Long road awaits Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Goaltender Pascal Leclaire remains hopeful he'll be available when the Senators face off against the Capitals on Thursday night in Washington (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

With the road in front of them about to get significantly tougher, the Ottawa Senators are holding their breath on the injury front once again.

Starting goaltender Pascal Leclaire and forward Alex Kovalev both skipped practice earlier today at Scotiabank Place as the Senators began preparations for Thursday night's matchup with the Southeast Division-leading Capitals in Washington (7 p.m., TSN, Team 1200).

While Senators head coach Cory Clouston said two of the team's stalwarts were merely taking "maintenance" days away from the rink and "should be ready for tomorrow," he did add "but we're not positive."

All of which left the door open, if just slightly, that Ottawa could be without two more key players against the explosive Caps.

Of particular concern is the status of Leclaire, who had Boston Bruins forward Blake Wheeler fall on top of him late in the third period of the teams' game Tuesday night at Scotiabank Place. Leclaire spent a few anxious moments prone on the ice before getting to his feet and finishing out the rest of the game in relief of starter Brian Elliott.

Alarm bells were set off, however, when Leclaire didn't take to the ice earlier today. But the affable native of Repentigny, Que., did his best to quell such concerns afterward. He remains hopeful that he'll be available Thursday night and will travel with his teammates to Washington.

"We just decided to skip practice and give it a day of rest to be ready for tomorrow," said Leclaire. "When somebody falls on you, for a goalie... you see guys get hurt and stuff like that and it’s never fun. But I was able to finish the game and felt like I had good power and felt all right. It was definitely a good sign and we’ll just take it from there.

"A day is a long time and I’ll use it the best that I can. Then we’ll see in the morning."

Even if it proves to be just a scare, it's not exactly the kind of news the Senators need as they embark on a stretch that will see them play six of their next seven games on the road. Only 15 of their remaining 39 games this season are slated for the friendly confines of Scotiabank Place, where Ottawa is an impressive 16-7-3 this season. But a 6-10-1 road record to date needs to improve for the Senators to maintain their hold on an Eastern Conference playoff position.

"I don’t think we have a mental hurdle," said Clouston. "We just have to go out and play hard and we’ve got to play well. We need consistency from our goaltending straight on out. If we get that, we’ll give ourselves an opportunity to win."

"We just decided to skip practice and give it a day of rest to be ready for tomorrow. When somebody falls on you, for a goalie... you see guys get hurt and stuff like that and it’s never fun. But I was able to finish the game and felt like I had good power and felt all right. It was definitely a good sign and we’ll just take it from there." - Pascal Leclaire
Leclaire, for one, believes the Senators have shown they can get the job done away from home, even if the record doesn't exactly show it.

"We can’t really (be thinking) that because we’re on the road, we’re probably going to struggle," he said. "We’ve played some good games on the road this year and we’ve had some good wins. Every game is different and your focus is different."

What won't help the cause is more of the kind of start that doomed the Senators on Tuesday night. The Bruins racked up four goals by the 13:45 mark of the first period, which chased Elliott from the net and gave Boston stopper Tim Thomas more than enough offence in a 4-1 win.

"We have to be more prepared and ready to play right from the start," Senators defenceman Chris Phillips said with an eye toward the upcoming road stretch. "It’s starting to get to that time now where every point is very crucial and it makes it that much tougher when you’re on the road, and teams at home are trying to get those points. We’ve just got to expect more from ourselves.

"(A good start) is always a big part of every game and even more so on the road – not making mistakes, not giving them even a chance to get the crowd into it. Get the puck in deep and just play a simple game and force them to make mistakes that you have to capitalize on."

Around the boards

With Leclaire absent, Matthew Spezza – the younger brother of injured Senators centre Jason – filled the goaltending vacancy during today's practice ... Ottawa line combinations seen during today's workout: Ryan Shannon-Mike Fisher-Chris Neil, Milan Michalek-Peter Regin-Nick Foligno, Jarkko Ruutu-Chris Kelly-Jonathan Cheechoo and Chris Campoli-Jesse Winchester-Shean Donovan ... The Senators face off against the Florida Panthers on Saturday at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., no TV, Team 1200) before embarking on a road trip that will take them to Carolina (Sunday), Atlanta (Tuesday), New York (Jan. 14), Montreal (Jan. 16) and Boston (Jan. 18).


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