OTTAWA – At a time when the Ottawa Senators could be concerned with scoring goals, giving them up in bunches is becoming a problem.
After having to pull his starting goaltender in each of the past two games – although surprisingly only one of those was a loss – Ottawa coach Cory Clouston was in a bit of surly mood Wednesday morning, seeking an improved effort from netminders Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott.
“We have to give them more support,” Clouston said, “but they also have to be better for us.”
On Tuesday, Ottawa suffered a 4-1 loss at home to the Boston Bruins in a game that saw Elliott pulled after giving up all four goals on 16 shots in less than a period of work.
Elliott was only starting because Leclaire had been so poor in the previous game, a 7-4 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. The Senators won that despite Leclaire giving up three goals on 10 shots before getting the hook.
With his team’s top goal scorers, Mike Fisher and Milan Michalek, struggling to find the back of the net while Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson sit out with injuries, the Senators would do well to be as tight as possible defensively.
The Senators’ defencemen, not a very physical bunch, aren’t making things easy for their goalies. Clouston tried to avoid pinning the blame on Elliott for Tuesday’s loss, but considering he defended his team’s overall defensive play, it’s pretty clear who he’s pointing the finger at.
“We gave up 10 chances last night . . . anytime you’re around 10 or 11, you’re pretty happy with that,” Clouston said.
“We have to be better, especially early on in the game, but we need a couple of saves as well … to give us an opportunity,” Clouston said before the team left for Washington, where the Senators will face the Capitals, the NHL’s highest-scoring team, on Thursday.
These days, Ottawa’s not getting many.
Leclaire, whom the Senators traded for before last year’s deadline to be their No. 1, has had an up-and-down year so far. He’s struggled to find consistency and, known for being injury prone when he arrived, has also been in and out of the lineup.
Although he made 19 stops in relief of Elliott on Tuesday, he was shaken up when a member of the Bruins fell on him in the crease.
The Senators wouldn’t disclose if he was injured in the collision, but he didn’t practise Wednesday.
He is, however, hoping to be ready to face the Capitals.
“We’re not talking about it today, apparently,” said Leclaire, breaking into a laugh.
He underwent treatment while former Canadian Hockey League goaltender Matthew Spezza, brother of injured Senators’ star Jason, took his place in goal.
“We’re doing top secret, so you guys are going to have to pull out videos and stuff and guess,” he said. “Everything’s been hurt on my body before, so you can guess yes, I hurt something that I hurt before.
“I’ll take the day off and see tomorrow. I was able to finish the game and I had go power and felt all right, so that’s definitely a good sign.”
If he’s not ready to go, Elliott will start. Given an extended run when Leclaire was out recovering from a fractured cheekbone, Elliott failed to make the most of the chance.
Leclaire said he doesn’t disagree with his coach that he and Elliott could be better.
“We always want to play better,” he said. “I don’t think it would be fair to blame Brian for something like last night, there were some bounces . . . but at the same time, we’ve got to make sure we come in and play well and be solid and be consistent.
“We’ve just got to make sure that we can put a whole bunch of good games together. (Clouston) is right, we’ve been on and off a bit.”
The Senators play six of their next seven games on the road, where they’re just 6-10-1 so far, and could stand to get Fisher and Michalek firing again.
Alex Kovalev, who scored four goals against the Flyers on Sunday to end his own scoring drought, also missed practice Wednesday. Clouston is hoping he’ll be ready to go Thursday.
The goal-less slump of Fisher, who has 15 on the year to rank second behind Michalek’s 16 for the team lead, hit double digits after Tuesday’s game. Michalek has gone eight contests without scoring and has just a one goal in his last 18 games.
“That’s the way a season goes, it’s up, it’s down,” Fisher said. “Sometimes you don’t play well, get goals, get bounces and feel good.
“Other times, you play well and you’re in the wrong spots. I was talking to Milan about it the other day because he’s kind of going through the same thing. It’s a weird game sometimes, but it’s the little things I’ve got to be better at in some areas.”