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McElhinney giving Sens, career some net gains

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
In two starts in a Senators uniform, goaltender Curtis McElhinney has provided steady play between the pipes in the absence of starter Craig Anderson (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

Curtis McElhinney finally has his feet planted firmly on solid ground.

And given the whirlwind existence he's lived in the last several weeks, the London, Ont., native is understandably happy to say so. But the Ottawa Senators goaltender is hardly taking his new-found stability for granted.

"You certainly can’t have nights off here," McElhinney admitted earlier today, even as he was still basking in the glow of a 3-1 St. Patrick's Day victory over the New Jersey Devils at Scotiabank Place. "And the fact that I do need a job next year ... I want to make the most of it and I want to prove to Ottawa than I’m capable of playing in this league at a competitive level. And I want to prove it to everyone in the dressing room here.

"It’s one of those things where I have to stay extremely focused and be sharp, but just enjoy the ride. It’s been a little bit hectic in the last month or so."

Hectic, indeed, for the 27-year-old stopper, who started the season with the Anaheim Ducks but was dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 24 in a goalie exchange for Dan Ellis. Four days later, McElhinney — who guesses he spent a grand total of 17 hours of "more or less vacation time" in Florida, including one pre-game skate — was scooped off the waiver wire by the Senators.

No wonder, then, that McElhinney savours every consecutive day he now spends in the same city. The question now is whether he'll get to stay in Ottawa — his contract expires after this season — and he isn't any close to an answer just yet, though the kind of performance he turned in against the Devils surely can't hurt.

"I’d love for (Ottawa) to be a part of my future," said McElhinney, who owns a 2-0-0 record, 1.85 goals-against average and .940 save percentage during his brief tenure here. "I need work next year and you know what, I feel comfortable with everybody in the dressing room right now. It’s a young group of guys that are great to get along with, and everybody’s working hard, having fun and we’re finding ways to win games."

McElhinney's steady play against the Devils and in another 2-1 victory last Friday in Tampa, Fla., against the Lightning is comfort to Senators head coach Cory Clouston, who has seen starter Craig Anderson sidelined by an undisclosed lower body ailment. Anderson didn't practise with the team this morning, so McElhinney might get the call against the Bolts on Saturday night at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

"He's worked hard and he's had a great attitude since he's gotten here," said Clouston, who didn't promise McElhinney anything specific in terms of playing time when the Senators acquired him. "Basically, it was just when you get the opportunity, make the best of it. Work hard in practice and be a good teammate. He’s played that role before and I think it’s something he’s very comfortable with, and he’s showing what he’s capable of doing."

Needless to say, impresses Senators brass — or any other team around the league — is of prime importance to McElhinney these days. But if that involves any kind of pressure, Clouston hasn't seen any negative impact from it.

"I think he’s using that to motivate himself," said Clouston. "He’s still focusing on what he has to do but obviously, that’s going to be in the back of his head. It has to be to a certain extent, but he hasn’t used that as a distraction. If anything, he’s used it as a motivational factor."

Still, McElhinney will take the time to enjoy whatever chance comes his way.

"I’ve come into a situation where things feel pretty good," said McElhinney, a sixth-round choice (176th overall) by the Calgary Flames in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. "Getting off to a good start certainly helps that and I feel good about the environment right now. It’s an enjoyable place to play. Things have gone pretty well since I came here. I’m just trying to have fun with it. It’s a new situation and I want to make the most of it."

Around the boards

Clouston was pleased with Binghamton callup Roman Wick's play against the Devils. It was the second Senators appearance for the Swiss forward, who saw less than nine minutes of duty but made his presence felt. "I liked his game last night," said Clouston. "With any luck, he could have had a goal or two. I thought he made some real good defensive plays. He’s understanding a little bit more about what we want him to do and he’s understanding what he needs to do at this level. I thought his game was much, much improved from (his last callup)" ... The Sens and Bolts split two previous meetings earlier this season, each winning on the road by a 2-1 count. After Saturday, the face off once more March 29 in Tampa ... Ottawa is 42-21-2-3 all-time against its expansion cousins. The teams entered the league together in 1992-93.

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