The Spezz defence

BRUCE GARRIOCH -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 12:10 PM ET

As Jason Spezza returned to practice yesterday, Senators coach Bryan Murray took a moment to stress the centre's importance to the team.

Murray has heard the debates on the call-in shows and around the water coolers that the Senators may be better off without their No. 1 pivot.

"I just chuckle because I know when he comes back, he'll help our hockey club," Murray said yesterday. "He may not be the best checker on our team, but he'll be a point-getter and a top player ... I know that.

"He was a real good player and real good point-getter (before his knee injury). Was he our best all-around player? I can't say that, but he's certainly got points for us and made some good things happen. He's an exciting player. I hope (Spezza) is watching what's happening and he'll just jump on board and be part of that as well."

That could be as early as Saturday against the Bruins in Boston, but it's more likely he'll be back Jan. 29 when the Boston visits Scotiabank Place after the all-star break.

As the Senators prepare to host the Capitals tonight, Spezza resumed practising for the first time since Dec. 21, skating on the fourth line with Brian McGrattan and Denis Hamel.

"We're not going to rule (a Saturday return), but we're still looking at after the all-star break," said Spezza. "It's nice to do some things with the guys. When you're injured, you're by yourself a lot, it's tough. It's just nice to be around the guys.

"It gives me a good chance to make sure I am fully healed. There's no rushing back and the guys are playing real well. I can help even more. It's nice to see them playing so well."

The Senators have a 9-1-1 record in 11 games without Spezza. The trio of Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson and centre Chris Kelly has been on fire, recording 55 points.

Murray has said previously that he isn't going to break the line up when Spezza is ready to return.

"Brian McGrattan has been looking for a centre for a couple of years," Murray said with a big smile. "I'm not sure what we're going to do with (Spezza), honestly. (Antoine) Vermette is looking for a partner and (Mike) Fisher will be looking for a partner. There will have to be a little juggling going on. I'll just have to wait and see when he's ready to go and then make the decision who he plays with."

Spezza isn't bothered by the fans who believe the club is better without him.

"I'm not too worried. I feel I can help this team. When the team goes on a winning streak and you're not involved there is going to be talk, but I think when you put me and (Fisher) in, we're going to help more than hurt (the team)," said Spezza.


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