Sens tee off on predictions

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:34 PM ET

The Senators are fine with pre-season predictions that have them finishing in the middle of the Eastern Conference pack.

And why not? Wasn’t it just four months ago that the seventh-place Flyers met the eighth-place Canadiens to determine which would face the Blackhawks in a series for the Stanley Cup?

“It’s so close,” captain Daniel Alfredsson said Thursday at the 17th annual Bell/Ottawa Senators Charity Classic — the unofficial end to a Senators golf season that prematurely started when they became first-round fodder of the Penguins. “Most people thought Philly would be a top team in the regular season last year, and it wasn’t until the playoffs they were. I think everybody knows you’ve just got to find a way to get into the playoffs. That’s the goal for everybody. If you do, we feel, as do most teams, that we have a chance to go far, and maybe even go all the way. I don’t think we really put too much into where people pick us. We think we’re a playoff team.

“I’m very optimistic going into the season. I like our team, and if we can stay healthy, I think a lot of good things will happen.”

The positive spin from Jason Spezza is that prognosticators like The Hockey News (which picks the Senators to finish 10th) and TSN’s Pierre McGuire (anywhere from No. 7-10) could be doing his team a favour.

“It’s probably a good thing because (this way) we can surprise a lot of teams,” said Spezza. “I think we were similar last year, and we ended up finishing fifth. I think sometimes when you go in, you can kind of come through the back door. That’s not a bad thing. We’ve been frontrunners for a long time. We feel we have a better team than we’re given credit for. There’s no point talking about it. We’ve just got to go out and show it.”

Where they wind up, of course, will depend in no small part on the kind of season they get from Spezza. The team’s highest-paid player and offensive catalyst has been on quite a roller-coaster ride the past 12 months. He had zero goals in the first 10 games of the 2009-10 season, then missed 20 games with a knee injury, then had 14 points in the last eight games and seven more in the six post-season matches.

Ottawa fans booed Spezza for his giveaways in the playoffs, prompting the 27-year-old to tell GM Bryan Murray to trade him if he felt it would help the team.

“First of all, he’s in great shape,” coach Cory Clouston said when asked about his No. 1 centre. “I spoke with him (Thursday) morning, back at the rink ... real good attitude, excited about the season to get going, and to me, he’s in the best mental frame that I’ve seen him in since I’ve been with the organization. We’re excited for him.

“Any time you face any type of adversity, if you handle it the right way, you’re going to be a better person for it. The condition he’s in, the mind frame he’s in, he handled it the exact way we wanted him to.”

Alfredsson said Spezza will be motivated — just like the whole team will be — and expects fans to be behind Spezza. Alex Kovalev figures Spezza has to shut out distractions.

“If he ignores you guys and plays hockey, he should be fine,” said Kovalev. “If he starts putting in his head what people think about him, it’s definitely hard to play hockey.”

Spezza, meanwhile, is just anxious to get back on the ice. He made some adjustments in his off-season training, again working on getting quicker and stronger, but also concentrating on his “own personal needs” rather than a general program.

He also learned how to change diapers, as his first child, Sophia Donna, was born June 8.

“Obviously, I want to carry on, from how my second half went,” said Spezza. “Get off to a better start. It was tough having a tough start last year.

“I’m just excited to play again. All the stuff that went on in the summer can become a distraction, when there’s no hockey. I’m excited to get back playing and everything is behind us. I’ve worked hard this summer and really looking forward to the year.”

And how does he think he’ll be received by the fans come October?

“Hopefully, my play will speak for itself,” said Spezza. “Everybody knows where my head is at, the guys on the team know. I’m excited to be back here. I think we’ve good, good club.”

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca


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