Spezza happy to be back

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:03 PM ET

LONG ISLAND — Not exactly an NFL fanatic, Matt Carkner will nonetheless be one of the few Senators pulling for the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday.

One of the reasons is because his road roommate, Chris Campoli, grew up rooting for the Green Bay Packers. Just wouldn’t be right for him to side with his roomie, he figures. Another is that he’s a fan of Steeler Troy Polamalu.

“I like his hair,” Carkner said of the flowing locks worn by Pittsburgh’s star safety. “I was going to go for that look, but it’s tough under the hockey helmet.”

Campoli, of course, is taking the Super Bowl far more seriously.

“It could get pretty intense between him and I,” he said of Carkner, before adding: “Not physically intense, because I wouldn’t win that battle.”

Jason Spezza, like Campoli, is going with Green Bay. Yes, it was another Pittsburgh defender — Penguins blueliner Kris Letang — who knocked him out of the Senators lineup for 15 games with a dirty check into the boards on Boxing Day. But that’s not it. Spezza is a Cowboys fan, and as such he can’t find it in himself to cheer for the Steelers.

“I want (Packers QB) Aaron Rodgers to win,” Spezza said. “He deserves it. He’s a Top-5 guy in the league. I hope it’s going to be high scoring. I think Aaron Rodgers is going to throw for three (TDs) and run for one. Let’s say a 31-17 (final). I want it to be the Aaron Rogers Bowl.”

However, Spezza knows his primary wish for the weekend already came true. After 15 games on the injured list, he was aching to get back into action, and Saturday vs. the Islanders was the game he had circled on his calendar.

Spezza cares very much about the Senators, and it pained him to see his club lose 14 games without him. He also missed the day-to-day banter in the dressing room.

“You just feel like you’re part of the team again,” Spezza said of re-joining the Senators for a nine-day road trip that also takes them on a tour of Western Canada.

“When you’re hurt, you don’t really feel like you’re part of things. You try to stay out of the way on game days. Don’t get in guys’ kitchens too much. On off days, you’re trying to figure out how everything’s going, what everyone’s doing. Now you’re part of things. You’re back on the team.

“It’s fun to be a hockey player. When you’re playing games, it makes it more enjoyable.”

Spezza didn’t like hearing and reading the stuff said and written about his teammates while he was out. Especially that they weren’t trying hard enough.

“You don’t like seeing guys critiqued and criticized,” he said. “The effort has been there, we just haven’t executed properly and haven’t played with confidence. But when you lose as many games as we have, the effort starts getting questioned.

“I think we want to just get back on track, get winning, and get a better feeling back in the room. Make it a more enjoyable 30 games for us down the stretch.”

The Sens were still in the thick of a playoff race when Spezza went down, and the failure of anyone to pick up the offensive slack in his absence is one of the main reasons they fell so quickly out of the conversation. Without Spezza, the power play scored just five times on 45 opportunities. In total, the team managed only 28 goals, including 11 in two of the games.

That’s 17 goals in the other 13. Remarkably inept, right? In the span of a month-and-a-half, the Sens have become the worst team in the NHL.

Still, Spezza says he doesn’t regret a decision he made last summer. GM Bryan Murray could have traded him had he just been given the word, but ultimately Spezza said no.

“Obviously we’ve struggled mightily this year, but I think it can be a quick turnaround here. Look at what Philadelphia did ...”

THINGS I THINK I THINK

Zack Smith has now fought twice this year, and both tilts have been with NYI’s Matt Martin. Smith’s won-loss record is 0-2 ... Martin rode shotgun for Steven Stamkos in Sarnia ... John Tavares put a move on Nick Foligno that had the fans oohh-ing before he was put on his butt by Chris Phillips ... Good line from Sun editor Jeff “Jar-Jar” Morgan with the score 3-3 less than 18 minutes into it. “This is like an all-star game — without the stars,” he cracked ... Smith left the game in the second period when he appeared to be hit in the face by a point shot from Filip Kuba, but he later returned to action ... Reminded of the Islanders’ promotion before one Christmas a few years ago that allowed fans showing up dressed as Santa Claus to go on the ice during the first intermission. A donnybrook ensued when one pulled his red jacket back to reveal a Rangers jersey. Kids who saw the Santas beating on each other are probably still scarred ... Wonder, by losing Evgeni Malkin with a serious knee injury, if Penguins GM Ray Shero called to enquire about Alex Kovalev yet? You’d have to bet yes.

CHRISTMAS FOR CAMPOLI

Super Bowl Sunday figures to be a special one for the biggest Packers fan on the Senators.

“They’ve been my team since I was a young kid,” said Chris Campoli. “I followed them since the early Brett Favre days. I think they’re going to win because their defence is equivalent to Pittsburgh’s ... and I think they bring more offensively. If they can just keep Pittsburgh honest, by gaining the odd decent run, it’s going to play a big role in the game. It’ll open up opportunities for the passing game. I’m going to say, 27-17.”

The Sens will watch the game together in Vancouver.

“The commercials are interesting ... I can’t wait. I’ve been waiting since ’97.”

That was the Packers’ last championship, of course.

C'EST WHAT?

“Gotta give Rick all the credit in the world for trying to fire up the team and going down with a fight. I’ve been punched in the face quite a few times and the worst punch is when you don’t expect it. Ricky didn’t know he was a lefty. Obviously a devastating blow for us to lose Ricky for this time, but we’ve got his back, we’ll get some wins and we’ll be that much better when he comes back.”

— Islanders’ tough guy Zenon Konopka on the fight his goalie, Rick DiPietro, had with Penguins ’tender Brent Johnson this week. DiPietro will miss more than a month with a broken face.


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