Jason Spezza is still looking for his first goal of the season, but unlike past years, a bagel beside the offensive star’s name isn’t that big a concern.
The team is winning, which gives everybody some breathing room.
“I’d like to get off the schneid and get on the board,” said the Senators centre, who has four assists in seven games. “I want to be better offensively, but I feel like I’m contributing.”
In past years, four assists in seven games for Spezza would have pretty much indicated a disaster for the Senators, given their reliance on him, captain Daniel Alfredsson and former winger Dany Heatley, who supplied the offence on a top-heavy group of forwards.
The offence is now spread out, giving Spezza time to adjust to some significant role changes.
After playing almost every game over four seasons with Heatley, and many with Alfredsson, Spezza is adjusting to new linemates Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo, who came over from the San Jose Sharks in the Heatley trade.
Spezza’s defensive contribution has expanded. He’s getting a chance to kill penalties and take some big faceoffs, which is paying off for the Senators. Spezza leads the club with a 56.9 winning percentage on faceoffs.
His defensive game has grown thanks to his skating and work ethic, both of which look to have improved this season.
“It’s easy to judge somebody like that just by offensive production, but the bottom line is he’s helping the team win,” said coach Cory Clouston. “He’s been a little bit snakebit around the net, but he’s creating chances and getting chances. The thing we like about him is he’s trying to expand his role, trying to expand his game. We’ve used him at times on the penalty kill. His play is a lot better than his offensive production.
“It’s only a matter of time before that really starts to pick up as well.”
Clouston has been encouraged with the chemistry development on the Michalek-Spezza-Cheechoo unit.
“You’re not always going to have nine or 10 shots by two guys on a line (in the 7-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning last Thursday, Michalek had nine shots and three goals, while Cheechoo had five shots). It’s not realistic.
“I thought the previous two games (including a 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins) they were very, very good. Last game (a 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday), they weren’t as good for whatever reason, but they still generated some opportunities.
“Milan almost had another short-handed goal (after two vs. Tampa). You’re not always going to have the number of chances they had the previous two games, but overall, we’re happy.”
As far as his start goes, Spezza pointed this out: “I had only one goal in the first 15 games two years ago and ended up with 34. I’m not really the hottest starter.”
The balanced offence — not to mention the strong work in the nets by Pascal Leclaire to give his team a chance in a couple of games — is giving Spezza and the rest of the top-six forwards some wiggle room.
The third and fourth lines have combined for eight goals and 12 assists for 20 points.
The top-six forwards have 12 goals and 17 assists for 29 points.
“A balanced lineup is pretty tough to stop,” said centre Chris Kelly.