Knock, knock, knocking on the Senators’ door Saturday night will be a big kid wearing a bear suit and mask who has impressively bagged a win for his team every time out this season.
Among those ready to answer, finally, is Jason Spezza.
Yes, for Halloween the Senators are getting their top offensive centre back just when they’re going to need him most, as Spezza is expected to return from a four-game injury absence to face the stingy Bruins at Scotiabank Place.
Led by the return to form of goalie Tim Thomas, the B’s have allowed a league-low 11 goals in their seven games this season. They’ve also been scored on just six times in winning five of their last six.
Spezza, meanwhile, had a goal and four assists in the five games he’s played.
“I guess we’re cautiously optimistic,” Spezza said Friday after his first practice since pulling up lame before a game in Buffalo on Oct. 22. “It felt pretty good (Friday). Worked hard over the week to feel better. Really want to get into the lineup, so as long as I feel good (Friday) afternoon, I’m hoping to play.”
Defying logic is the fact the Senators have come out on top in three of the four games they’ve played without Spezza, including victories over Phoenix and Florida that have them on their first winning streak of the season.
“Other guys have stepped it up in his absence,” said coach Cory Clouston. “We’re still a much better team overall when he’s playing for us. What we need, though, is when he comes back in the lineup, the guys who stepped it up not to have a little bit of a letdown. We need them to continue with their elevated play, and then we’ll be much better for it.”
Alex Kovalev, with four points in his last two games, would top that list.
Thomas is 5-0, with two shutouts and NHL-leading save percentage (.981) and GAA (0.60). Only three pucks have slipped by him in total, and he has yet to surrender more than one goal in a game.
Other than the possible exception of Tampa’s Steve Stamkos, Thomas has been the circuit’s best player in October.
Throw in the fact that he had a personal 11-game winning streak against the Senators before losing twice to them last January — and that he has a career record of 16-7-2 with four shutouts and a 2.09 GAA against Ottawa — and, well, the home team will have its hands full.
“They’re real good,” Spezza said of the Bruins. “Timmy Thomas looks like he’s back in form. They’re a big, physical team. They’re definitely a bit of a measuring stick right now for the East.”
Captain Daniel Alfredsson disagreed.
“I just see it as another game,” he said. “We want to keep this thing going. Just look for the same energy we’ve had for the last couple of games. It’s going to be harder, obviously. They check hard in the neutral zone. If we can skate and put a lot of pressure on them, we’ll have a good chance.
“We’re not going to change anything. We know Boston is one of the best teams defensively in the league. Claude Julien coaches that way. They’re really structured, so hopefully we can get to them early and force them to open up a little bit. Otherwise it will be a real tight game.”
After struggling offensively the first three weeks — and hitting rock bottom when they managed only 19 shots on goal and were shut out by the Habs last Saturday at SBP — the Senators have scored five goals in each of their last two outings.
Clouston admitted he’s reluctant to mess much with the line combinations that are finally starting to click, which means Mike Fisher could stay with Alfredsson and Milan Michalek while Spezza plays with Kovalev and either Nick Foligno or Peter Regin.
Spezza doesn’t care who he works with — he’s just anxious to get back to work.
“I feel I can play and contribute,” he said. “I just want to make sure I’m healthy, and they want to make sure I’m healthy. I don’t want this to be a nagging thing. We’re hoping that once I play (this time), that’ll be the end of it.”