Senators get Christmas bonus
Donovan makes surprising early return to lineup against Pens
|Pascal Leclaire moves back into the spotlight as the Senators' starting goaltender tonight in Pittsburgh against the Penguins (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images).
The news just keeps getting better on the injury front for the Ottawa Senators.
When the Senators hit the ice against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Mellon Arena tonight (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200), Shean Donovan will make a stunning early return to the lineup less than five weeks after tearing two ligaments in his right knee.
Call it a Christmas bonus of sorts for the Senators, who were already enthused about welcoming goaltender Pascal Leclaire and forward Chris Neil back into the fold after extended absences due to injuries. Donovan, who was sidelined after taking a knee-on-knee hit from Matt Cooke in a Nov. 20 game against — ironically enough — these same Penguins, was originally expected to be on the shelf until sometime in January.
Instead, he wore a gap-toothed grin earlier today as he talked about rejoining his teammates for their last game prior to the two-day Christmas break. It's another welcome addition for the Senators (18-14-4), who stand seventh in the Eastern Conference and face a stern test against the hot defending Stanley Cup-champions (25-11-1, fourth in East).
"It's nice to get back in and be part of the team and try to get a big win here," said Donovan, who's anxious for his first shift in awhile. "It's felt like it's been a long time. I don't know how far ahead (of schedule) I am, but I feel good and that's the main thing. I'm just pretty excited to get back in. It'll be fun."
Senators head coach Cory Clouston had been closely monitoring Donovan's progress since the veteran forward began practising with the team late last week. Once head athletic therapist Gerry Townend and the Sens' medical team gave him the green light, Clouston didn't hesitate to add Donovan back into the mix.
"Getting (Donovan and Neil) back should give us some energy and add a bit more size and grit to the team, which is always a good thing on the road."
Leclaire, for his part, expects the offensively-potent Penguins to test him early and often. But that just might be the right tonic for a goaltender who hasn't played since Nov. 21 while he waited for a fractured cheekbone to heal.
"It sometimes helps a little bit when you get busy early. It helps you get into the game," said Leclaire, who has yet to play at Mellon Arena in his five-year National Hockey League career. "I'll react to whatever comes to me. But I'm fine. I felt really good this morning in practice.
"I've never played here, so it'll be fun, too."
Around the boards
The Senators lines for tonight based on the pre-game skate: Milan Michalek-Peter Regin-Daniel Alfredsson, Jonathan Cheechoo-Mike Fisher-Alex Kovalev, Jarkko Ruutu-Chris Kelly-Chris Neil and Shean Donovan-Jesse Winchester-Ryan Shannon ... The return of Donovan ends blueliner Chris Campoli's four-game run as a fill-in forward and he'll be a healthy scratch tonight. "He's done very well," Clouston said of Campoli's new role. "You can't ask a whole lot more from him. He's given us some good minutes. It's not an easy task changing positions like that." ... The Russians will name their Olympic team on Christmas Day, with Senators defenceman Anton Volchenkov and forward Alex Kovalev among the candidates to make the roster. Both have previous Winter Games experience, with Kovalev earning gold (1992) and bronze (2002) medals ... The Senators next see action on Saturday, facing off against the Sabres in Buffalo (7 p.m., no TV, Team 1200).