Spezza hurtin' after hit

DON BRENNAN -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:18 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- As it turns out, the small truck bearing an IV on its plates did only minimal damage when it ran over Jason Spezza.

The Senators centre was able to get back on the road again yesterday, and coach John Paddock is optimistic he'll be in the lineup for tonight's game against the Capitals.

"He's not 100%," Paddock said of Spezza yesterday, "but he feels pretty strongly he'll play (tonight)."

Spezza was a little more cautious in the assessment of his status, but noted the fact that he's with the team on this trip should be viewed as a positive sign. He wouldn't get specific about the injury he suffered on a hit by Islanders defenceman Freddy Meyer IV Sunday night, but did say it was not his head. He also squashed speculation that he hurt his back, on which he has had surgery.

"This is probably the true general body soreness," Spezza said, chuckling at the vague terminology used by NHL teams mostly at playoff time. "The back is fine, there are no problems with the back, even though I landed pretty hard on my arse, the back's pretty good."

The check, a clean one, limited Spezza's playing time to just six shifts of the 3-1 loss to the Islanders. He said it's been a long time since he's been drilled so hard.

"Adam Mair hit me in junior one time, I was pretty bad, but that's the biggest pro hit I've taken, definitely," said Spezza -- in a comment that will not doubt have the 5-foot-10, 192-lb., Meyer puffing out his chest if he hears about it -- after replaying the incident.

"I kinda know he's coming, I don't really want the pass there, but I can't really bail on it. I'm pretty good at taking those hits usually. I usually don't get hit very hard very often, usually I can absorb it. I think it actually hurts me that he's a smaller guy, kinda catches me a little awkward. It's just a play you make at the time. I saw him last second, but I couldn't really go anywhere. I was just kind of shaken a little bit."

EAVES RETURNING

Spezza's presence will be sorely needed against the Capitals, who have been victorious in all three meetings so far this season. Especially with Dany Heatley already on the shelf for six weeks mending his shoulder. Further good news for Ottawa yesterday was the completion of Patrick Eaves' recovery from a separated shoulder that kept him out for 24 games.

"I waited until I felt it was ready. I'll be full go (tonight), said Eaves, who has four goals and four assists in 20 games. "Hopefully I've got my legs under me and I can bring a spark to the team. It's kind of that time of year, so I'm going to just try and play hard, and see what happens."

Ray Emery is the coach's choice to start in goal, no doubt largely because Martin Gerber has allowed 10 goals in the last 66 minutes he's played against the Capitals. Emery has won his last three starts, including the 3-2 victory over the Red Wings Saturday.

GRINDERS STEP UP

Paddock hopes his players are over the hangover from that one for this confrontation with a Washington team that has beaten them by scores of 4-1, 8-6 and 6-3. He figures the Caps' success has a lot to do with how coach Bruce Boudreau has grinders like Matt Bradley, Tomas Fleischmann and David Steckel fore checking hard, and how "their four or five skill guys" (Alex Ovechkin, Michael Nylander, Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Alexander Semin) rarely let them down.

"We have to be aware of who's on the ice, who's going to be most dangerous," said Paddock. "When the skill guys are on the ice, let's limit their chances."

Minus Heatley, the Senators will not only have to raise their defensive awareness, but they'll have to battle the way they did when achieving success minus an injured Spezza, Mike Fisher and Antoine Vermette for a significant stretch of time last season.

"We've been down this road last year and a lot of good things came of it," said Fisher. "We've just got to come together as a team. When we're playing solid, it's guys stepping up, just kind of doing little things, outworking teams. If we don't do that, we're not going to win, regardless of who is in or out for us.

"We've got a deep team, we'll be fine. It's just a matter of guys picking it up a little. We were without Spezz, Vermie and myself last year for an extended period of time and that's the best hockey the team played."


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