CALGARY — More than ever before it is apparent that the Senators are becoming Jason Spezza’s team.
Ottawa’s top centre and offensive catalyst has returned from a six-week injury absence in full stride and, despite missing a total of 20 games to date, is still the best bet to lead the club in scoring this season.
Currently, he’s only nine points off the pace set by Daniel Alfredsson.
“There’s a lot of little areas he’s done a very good job at,” coach Cory Clouston said of the past two games for which he has had Spezza, who watched the Senators slip into oblivion with a 1-14 record in his absence. “He hasn’t shown a lot of rust.”
Spezza didn’t score his first night back, but he had four shots on goal and another eight blocked by the Islanders. He was also a dominating 16-7 in the faceoff circles, suggesting his shoulder was 100%.
When the Senators played the Canucks in Spezza’s second game, he was the best player on the ice from either side. And that included all the twins who were suited up.
Spezza had a goal and an assist, seven shots on net. He also deflected one shot off the post and set up Milan Michalek on a short-handed breakaway, only to watch another puck ring off the iron.
Clouston commended Spezza’s play on the penalty kill, during which he saw 2:23 of ice time as the Senators held the No. 1-ranked power play in the league to an 0-for-3 night.
“Timing is always an issue, but I felt better last game,” said Spezza. “And usually you can be a little tentative when you’re coming back. But (Monday) night I didn’t really think about my shoulder at all.”
By directing 21 shots toward the goal in two games — and by shooting rather than taking a chance on a 3-on-0 breakaway that resulted in his goal — it looks like Spezza is determined to cure the Senators’ most glaring problem by himself.
As their top offensive player, he takes it personally that the Senators rank 29th in the ‘goals for’ category.
Spezza punched the air with a little more enthusiasm than normal when he banged in his own rebound with Alfredsson and Nick Foligno skating in with him. It was his first goal since Dec. 17.
“We’re struggling to score goals and I watched a lot of games from up top,” the suddenly trigger-happy Spezza said. “I’m trying to create a little more offence, try to be a little hungrier around the net, get us out of this a little bit. Definitely making more of an effort to shoot.”
Alfredsson believes the Senators missed Spezza both on and off the ice. It is such an endorsement by the captain that he’d also recommend Spezza to take over his ‘C’ when he retires.
“Off the ice, the energy he brings to the rink, just being a leader for us,” Alfredsson said of Spezza’s attributes. “He’s been around for quite a while and he’s one of the guys we always look to here as well. He brings a lot off the ice, to the locker room. To all the guys.
“I think being away a little bit, he comes in and has a fresher look than maybe we have, through a tough grind. he brought a lot of energy. He’s played really well.”
Motivating Spezza for the final 28 games is the burning desire to get the team winning again. For future worth, yes, but also for the present.
“It’s getting pretty frustrating to come out of the backend with a loss every night,” said Spezza. “The good efforts just aren’t cutting it anymore. I think you can tell yourself that so much, but we want to start winning games. We’re a little bit embarrassed by how the season has gone, frustrated, and want to start winning games in order to start feeling better about ourselves in the room.
“It’s to send a message for (next season) and this year, too. We’ve got guys in this room that are all frustrated. We want to show ourselves we’re a better team too. It’s easy to say we’re a better team than our record is, but we have to win more games to prove it.”