|Goaltender Pascal Leclaire speaks to the media after practice Tuesday morning at Scotiabank Place. Leclaire will see his first game action as a Senator tonight in Halifax, when Ottawa takes on the Florida Panthers in its pre-season opener.
Already, it's game on for the Ottawa Senators in their two-week dash through the pre-season.
Tonight's matchup with the Florida Panthers at the Halifax Metro Centre (6 p.m., no TV), however, can't come soon enough for at least two Senators.
Start with young Swedish defenceman Erik Karlsson
, the Senators' top pick (15th overall) in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, whose quest to make the club's opening-day roster begins in earnest this evening.
"Oh yeah, very (excited)," the 19-year-old Karlsson said when asked how he feels about seeing his first National Hockey League game action. "I think it's going to be a lot of fun out there and I'll be able to play with some good players. I'm looking forward to it."
Senators general manager Bryan Murray has made it clear that his prized prospect will be given "every chance" to start the 2009-10 season in Ottawa. But Karlsson knows his work is just beginning.
"I need to improve everything," he said. "I don't know yet (about his chances of making the team). It's the first game tonight and we'll see how it feels. Then I go from there. I think I learn something new every day and if I keep that up, I think I'm going to have a good chance."
Senators head coach Cory Clouston has been pleased by Karlsson's progress so far in training camp but acknowledges the youthful blueliner still has much to learn.
"He's made strides in every ice session," said Clouston. "Every time (on the ice), he's improved and he's gaining more confidence. He’s not going to be a guy who’s going to go in front of the net and pound you like a (Chris) Pronger.
"What he’s going to have to learn to do is get body position. What he’s going to have to learn to do is play a containment game and use his stick very well, somewhat like a (Kris) Russell in Columbus who is very skilled but uses his body well."
"I need to improve everything. I don't know yet (about his chances of making the team). It's the first game tonight and we'll see how it feels. Then I go from there. I think I learn something new every day and if I keep that up, I think I'm going to have a good chance." - Erik Karlsson
Also chomping at the bit to get going is goaltender Pascal Leclaire, who hasn't been a part of an NHL game of any sort since undergoing ankle surgery back in February while he was still employed by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Leclaire was acquired by the Senators a month later at the trade deadline but tonight marks the first time he'll wear Ottawa colours in a game.
"It's been a long time," said Leclaire. "I'm getting more comfortable every day (in practice). I'm not where I want to be but I'm getting really close to it... The last few days have been good and as long as we progress every day, that’s fine with me. Playing a game tonight will be one of those steps. You have to adjust and figure out a couple of things but it will be good.
"I’m looking forward to seeing how I’ll feel back in there. It’ll just be fun. I’m happy to get back and be able to play again."
Tonight's game marks a homecoming of sorts for Leclaire and defenceman Alex Picard, both of whom played junior hockey for the Halifax Mooseheads.
"It'll be fun going back to Halifax," said Leclaire, who will split the goaltending duties tonight with Swedish rookie Robin Lehner
. "I'll have some friends in the crowd and everything, so it's a fun building (for me). I had fun when I played my two years of junior there, so I'm really looking forward to it."Around the boards
Here's how the Senators were aligned in practice this morning. Forward lines: Chris Kelly-Ryan Shannon-Erik Condra; Cody Bass-Jarkko Ruutu-Matt Carkner; Peter Regin
-Josh Hennessy-Chris Neil; Denis Hamel-Shean Donovan-Martin St. Pierre. Defence pairings: Erik Karlsson
-Christoph Schubert; Chris Campoli-Brian Lee; Alex Picard-Drew Bannister ... The teams face off again on Wednesday night at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m.) in the Senators' first of three home pre-season games. The others are Saturday (Montreal) and Sept. 25 (Boston).