All things considered, Pascal Leclaire had a pretty good night.

The former Halifax Mooseheads star returned to his old stomping grounds at the Metro Centre last night and made his debut with the Ottawa Senators in a 3-1 loss to the Florida Panthers in NHL pre-season action before a crowd of 6,148.

Leclaire, who turned aside 14 of 16 shots in a little more than 31 minutes of work, was playing his first game since Dec. 18 because of ankle surgery. He was traded to the Sens from the Columbus Blue Jackets in March while he recovered.

He said he had been “looking forward to this for a long time.”

“It’s totally different from practices, but I’m glad it’s done,” said Leclaire, who played in Halifax from 1998 to 2001. “I felt OK at the beginning, started to feel better as the game went on, but it’s good to get that one out of the way.”

The 26-year-old was credited with the loss because of two goals allowed in a one-minute, 35-second stretch at the end of the first period. He was beaten cleanly by bullet shots from Scott Timmins and Kamil Kreps from the faceoff circles.

“He played well — it’s something for him to build on,” said Senators head coach Cory Clouston. “He should gain some confidence off that game, for sure.”

Leclaire, who posted some sparkling numbers in 2007-08 when he recorded nine shutouts with the Blue Jackets, was acquired to be the Senators’ long-desired bona fide starter.

He expects to be back to his old form to start the season.

“It feels good,” the Repentigny, Que., native said of his ankle. “It was only half a game, but I have no issues at all.”

The game concludes the Panthers’ time in Nova Scotia. They held part of training camp in Port Hawkesbury.

“Timing’s still got to come,” said David Booth, who scored Florida’s other goal in the second.

“That’s why you play a lot of pre-season games. It was fun to get back out there, especially in a town you don’t play in all year.”

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