I was lucky enough to take in my first Senators game of the season tonight, and I was witness to a wild affair at the venerable Kanata rink between the home side and the New York Rangers. So wild that I limited my intake to two cold ones because I didn't want to leave my seat for a second. On the entertainment meter, the needle was buried in the red for most of the night.
Seeing a third and a fourth liner both get hat tricks in the same game was one thing, but watching the momentum shift from one team to another as each goalie gave up hope despairing goals was another.
I can't sit here and say everything is going to be all right with Pascal Leclaire. I have no idea if it will be. He was bloody awful tonight. But I stand by my assertion that Leclaire has to be in the Senators net nearly every night for the foreseeable future in order to finally stop this maddening goalie turmoil that just won't go away.
The guy is healthy. Let him play. Hold your nose when necessary and watch for the signs that he is getting better. Because if Cory Clouston panics now and puts Brian Elliott in to start the season, this is never going to go away.
Call me crazy, but I saw some good things from Leclaire tonight on my perch right behind him in the cheap seats for two periods. I thought he rebounded fairly well in the third period after the colossal fold job he pulled in the second.
For laughs, I put on the post-game show and awaited the flood of panicked callers. Yet they were reasonable compared to co-host Mike Eastwood who sounded like he was available to put Leclaire on a bus to nowhere himself if asked to. He will certainly have a lot of people who agree with him when he says Clouston can't possibly go to Leclaire for the home opener on Friday. Can't say I really blame the fans for worrying.
But you can't bury Leclaire because of a bad pre-season. The importance of these games will fade so quickly by puck-drop on Friday that folks will wonder how they got so carried away. It happens every year. The games get blown out of proportion because it's the first hockey a starved city has seen since early June. People lose their minds when they can't find the pre-season game on TV. Hockey pools are ravaged by panicked fantasy players dropping blue-chippers and picking up the latest walk-on tryout AHL'er who scored two power-play goals in some obscure neutral-site arena that's still named after a real person and not some mega-corporation.
Thankfully, the real games start now and everyone can walk away from the ledge. If the crappy goaltending continues for the first 5-10 games, then, yes, panic.
News that both Milan Michalek and Chris Neil had to leave the game for "precautionary reasons" doesn't sound so scary in print, but from my vantage point, Neil skated to the bench on one leg and had to be helped down the hallway by one person on either arm. It didn't look good. I didn't see what happened to Michalek but it may mean that Ryan Shannon may get a chance earlier than he thought. Shannon was great tonight, along with Nick Foligno and, of course, Chris Kelly and Zack Smith, the hat-trick brothers. David Hale also impressed and continued to play his quiet, responsible game in a pairing with Matt Carkner.
Soon after the game, news also hit that Jared Cowen had been sent back to Spokane in the WHL for the year (and can only be called up on an emergency basis). He had one outstanding game in the pre-season but seemed a tad behind the play in all the others. The only surprise is that GM Bryan Murray didn't give Cowen the chance to at least practice with the team for a while to get a little longer taste, but I don't think many pundits will be questioning this move at all.
The real tricky moves will be when Filip Kuba returns from injury near the end of October or later. That's when a decision might have to be made on the continually underwhelming Brian Lee who, it looks like, lost his job on the top-six again to another seasoned vet on a two-way contract - this time David Hale. Last season it was Matt Carkner.
Lee is clearly on his last legs in this organization. If he couldn't do it this year, when is he going to be able to do it?
He's only on this roster as a seventh defenseman because Cowen proved to be not ready and Kuba snapped his twig. Lee hasn't been terrible. He's just been Brian Lee.
By the way, the crowd was great tonight at the rink. It was far from capacity, but they were loud and more than made up for the rows of empty seats. For all the convenience of watching games at home in HD, nothing still beats the experience and atmosphere of walking into that arena and seeing it in person.