You can bet Jason Spezza wanted to prove something to Senators’ fans at Friday’s season-opener.
Now, he may not get that chance.
Bothered by a groin injury suffered with 20 minutes left in practice Wednesday, Spezza wasn’t on the ice Thursday and will be a game-time decision against the Buffalo Sabres Friday.
Spezza heard some boos during last year’s first-round playoff exit and seems to have a steely determination.
“We don’t think it’s going to be long-term if it’s any games at all, but he’s disappointed that he wasn’t able to practise,” said Senators coach Cory Clouston. “But I guess if we’re going to have injuries, let’s get them out of the way early.
“The nice thing is we’ve had a lot of adversity in the past, where we’ve had some key guys out. We’ve missed games with (Spezza), (Daniel) Alfredsson, (Filip) Kuba. The list kind of goes on and- on with the guys we lost last year at certain times.”
Spezza’s absence meant Clouston was forced to do some line dancing. Peter Regin centred a trio of Milan Michalek and Alex Kovalev, while Mike Fisher was with Nick Foligno and Daniel Alfredsson.
The Senators could start that way against Buffalo.
“It’s too bad. We’re pro athletes and we’re used to dealing with this stuff,” said Alfredsson. “Someone else is going to get an opportunity.
“We’ve got a deep enough team that we can, especially if we’re short a player at times, overcome that. (Spezza) is a big part of our team and we can’t wait for him to come back, but we’ll be fine in the meantime.”
Regin can be a winner in all of this. If Spezza is in the lineup, Regin will start the season on the fourth line and winger Ryan Shannon will be a healthy scratch. Regin finally came on at the end of camp and looked good in the club’s 8-5 win over the New York Rangers last Saturday. Regin is at his best when he’s digging along the boards and moving the puck.
“We’ll see what happens to Jason, but if I get a chance to play (in that role) I’ll try to do my best and make the most out of it,” said Regin, who had 29 points in 75 games last year.
“I probably didn’t have the best camp and I haven’t been skating as well. I’m starting to feel better and the last (two) games were better. I’m confident. I know I’m still the same player and I’ll be fine.”
After a one-hour workout, Clouston said the Senators don’t want to take any chances with Spezza because they start with three games in four days.
“We’re not going to push Jason just to get into one game and then, all of a sudden, have him miss four or five games,” said Clouston. “We want to make sure that when he’s back, he’s ready to go and it’s not in and out (of the lineup).”
Clouston will wait until Friday to name his starting goalie — either Pascal Leclaire or Brian Elliott.
“You want to be on the ice and I’m no different,” Leclaire said. “Brian wants to play as much as he can and it will be good, healthy competition. We can push each other and the team can get good results. That’s what you need.”