Elliott to carry Sens’ goaltending load

It’s the latest in a long line of health setbacks that have dogged Ottawa goaltender Pascal Leclaire since he joined the Senators over a year ago.

Ottawa Senators' Brian Elliott

Ottawa Senators' Brian Elliott

OTTAWA — It’s the latest in a long line of health setbacks that have dogged Ottawa goaltender Pascal Leclaire since he joined the Senators over a year ago.

He’s expected to miss at least two games after suffering a groin injury in a 3-2 win over Carolina on Thursday night.

Leclaire, who started Ottawa’s first four games of the season, had to leave the game just over two minutes into the opening period.

“It is frustrating,” Leclaire said Friday. “It’s almost like every year I get something, especially last year with the bad luck. Hopefully it’s not going to be too bad, but we’ll see. It’s tough to say now considering it just happened.”

Leclaire, a 27-year-old native of Repentigny, Que., joined the Senators after a March 2009 trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets. But he didn’t play a game for them that season while recovering from ankle surgery.

He was supposed to be Ottawa’s No. 1 goaltender last season but never really settled into the role, in part because of the injury bug.

Leclaire suffered a fractured cheekbone after being hit by a stray puck while sitting on the bench as a backup in one game. He suffered a concussion when teammate Mike Fisher rang a shot off his mask in practice on another occasion.

As a result of his struggles, both to stay healthy and to play well, he lost the job to Brian Elliott.

Leclaire, now in the final year of a contract that pays him US$4.8 million, was keen to show what he could do when given consistent playing time. Coach Cory Clouston gave him the opportunity and Leclaire played pretty well over the team’s first three games, even though the Sens did not record a win.

Elliott is expected to fill in again when Ottawa visits the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday.

Robin Lehner will join the team Saturday to serve as the backup. The 19-year-old Swede was due to make his first start of the season Friday night for Binghamton of the American Hockey League.

Leclaire, who’s never played more than 54 games in a season at the NHL level, will be re-evaluated next week to determine how long he’ll be out.

“He’s obviously not had the best luck in the world,” Elliott said of his teammate’s troubles. “I think all of the guys feel for him.”

Leclaire said he suffered the injury after making the first save of the game. He tried to continue and wound up making three more stops before leaving the game.

“I felt great in warmup,” he said. “I just kicked awkward and (his groin) just popped out a bit. That’s why it’s frustrating … it just kind of came out of nowhere.”

The loss of Leclaire tempered a much-needed victory by the Senators (1-2-1), who avoided going four games without a win to start the season for the first time since the 1994-’95 campaign.

“I feel bad. He’s played so well for us and I think if we’d played better in front of him the first couple of games he’d have had a couple of wins under his belt already this year,” Senators left-winger Nick Foligno said.

Also Friday, the NHL handed Foligno a $2,500 fine for an illegal check to the head of Carolina’s Patrick Dwyer. The fine is the maximum permitted under terms of the collective bargaining agreement.

Dwyer wasn’t hurt on the play and no penalty was called.

“I thought I just did what I was supposed to do. I just went for the puck more or less,” Foligno said. “They say I contacted his head. I don’t really think that, but that’s part of the game that they’re trying to crack down on and I understand that they need to make an example of it. That was never my intent.”

NHL senior executive vice-president of hockey operations Colin Campbell explained the decision in a release.

“While there was no injury as a result of the hit, it is clear that Foligno delivered a shoulder check from the blind side that made primary contact with Dwyer’s head,” Campbell said.

“It is also clear that Foligno was delivering the hit in an attempt to get the puck. Finally, in determining that a fine was the appropriate discipline for this incident, I took into account that Foligno has not been suspended previously by the league.”