Craig Hartsburg is calling out Jason Spezza -- again.
Now getting steady production from the Jesse Winchester-Mike Fisher-Daniel Alfredsson unit, Hartsburg is left wondering whatever happened to his first line.
Following yesterday's practice at the Sensplex, he noted that the Dany Heatley-Spezza-Antoine Vermette unit didn't even have a scoring chance after the first "five or 10 minutes" of a 2-1 loss in Carolina Friday. Although it was the first time in five games Heatley didn't light the lamp, the Senators have just six even- strength goals from the Heatley-Spezza combination through 14 games.
Before practice, Hartsburg essentially told the Spezza line to wake up. Sounds like he was looking primarily at the centre when he said it.
"We need them to be better," Hartsburg told a small gathering of reporters. "I have no problem with the way Dany Heatley is working and competing. I think Jason needs to play a better game. We are a team that counts on him heavily."
The Fisher line has 11 points in the last three games, over which time the Spezza line has contributed three points.
Spezza is uncharacteristically fourth in team scoring, with 13 points on five goals and eight assists. But Hartsburg re-iterated he needs more than just offence from the 25-year-old.
"We certainly need Jason to be our best player," said Hartsburg. "That's the way it's supposed to be ... (he needs) to be one of our best players every night.
'SO MUCH TALENT'
"I think Jason is a player that needs more consistency in his work habits and his competing. He's got so much talent. His size and everything ... if he shows more consistency in his work and his competing, he should be a dominant player. I've seen it some nights, so far, and other nights not so much.
"It's a challenge for (the Spezza line) to raise its game right now, and I think it starts with Jason."
While there have been rumours out of Chicago that the Blackhawks have held trade talks with the Senators involving Spezza, it's hard to imagine a deal of such magnitude going down. Hartsburg did suggest time may be running out on the lifespan of the Heatley-Spezza-Vermette line. They've been together for six games, but they'll need to increase their contributions unless they want tomorrow's tilt in Montreal to be their last.
"We're not happy with the line," said Hartsburg. "You can't continue to play a line together that doesn't play well."
In their first game together, Spezza-Heatley-Vermette had six points in a 5-2 win over the Sabres. Since then, they have seven points in five games. Just three of those seven have come at even strength.
"When we started we were good," said Spezza. "Like Hartsie said, we were good right away, and (the Fisher line) wasn't as good, then they were good and we haven't been as good. If we can kind of get this thing where both lines are going together, we'll be a real dangerous team. We've just got to get back to the things we were doing two weeks ago."
Luck isn't exactly on their side, either. Spezza said he's certain a first period shot he took Friday crossed the line, but there wasn't a proper TV camera angle to prove it. The night before, Vermette had a goal waved off when it was ruled he kicked the puck in.
"I think the way to get things going is to play hard, play together both ways and keep it simple," said Vermette. "If we do things like that and get the puck a little more, these guys are gifted so things are going to happen. Then you start getting bounces on your side."