OTTAWA - Fact is, any goal the Senators score these days is cause for celebration.
But when Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson teamed up for one in Thursday’s practice — then leapt into each other’s arms with big grins on their faces — there was also a sense of relief at Scotiabank Place.
The return of Spezza, the NHL’s fifth-leading scorer, should be a big boost for a team whose offence has dried up with just five goals in the last four games. Getting him back to play in a must-win vs. the Habs, against whom he has 27 goals and 58 points in 49 career games, well sure, it’s almost enough to jump for joy.
It’d bode well for the Senators if the Spezza can get one in his return from a one-game absence. They’re 11-0 when he has scored in 2012.
“I’m getting better,” Spezza, who has 75 points in 73 games, said following Thursday’s on-ice session, his first this week. “It’s good to get out and skate, get a little bit of a sweat on.”
Exactly why he missed Tuesday’s 1-0 loss to New Jersey appears to be a sensitive subject. The official reason given by both the team and player is an “illness,” but when pressed for details by a reporter who wondered if a flu might have caused a weight loss or have a lingering affect on his strength, Spezza wouldn’t elaborate.
“Illness,” he said.
But you’re good now?
“Yeah, just feelin’ somewhat okay,” he said before hastily departing the scrum.
Completely understandable it is if Spezza was emotionally drained. He played in four games after learning that his close friend, Canadian skier Nick Zoricic, died in Switzerland March 10. But being a pallbearer at Zoricic’s funeral in Toronto as he was earlier this week had to be extremely tough.
Your heart has to go out to Spezza, who himself has become one of Ottawa’s favourite sons.
“It’s obviously not easy,” he said. “One of my best friends died. But as hockey players, you value your time at the rink and you look forward to the couple of hours with the boys. I’m no different.”
Putting a smile on Spezza’s face Friday will be the occasion of his 600th career game. As well it should.
“Obviously, time goes by quick, 600 games comes fast,” said Spezza, who is seventh on the franchise games played list, yet the team’s second-leading all-time scorer with 607 points. “I feel good and I feel like I have a lot more to go, too. It’s nice to get to at such a young age.
“I’m just kind of truckin’ along, and hopefully reaching more milestones.
“It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago I was playing my first game, or in my first few years, or one of the young guys on the team,” he added. “Time flies, especially when you’re in this league and having lots of fun like I am. It goes by quick so you try and enjoy it while you can.”
THIS AND THAT
Along with finding a way to get more shots through to the Montreal net — the last time they played the Habs 25 of their offerings were blocked — the Senators need to get their power play going. In the last nine games, they have scored just twice with the man advantage. In the previous 10, they scored 12 times on the power play. “Our power play has to contribute for us,” said Spezza. “It’s been real good when we’ve been winning, and it’s no coincidence that the power play hasn’t scored for us and we haven’t won as much lately. It kind of all goes together.” ... Spezza had a laugh when reminded that, while being deemed not quite ready for prime time in his first season, then-coach Jacques Martin uttered something about the NHL being a “man’s league” and the young centre still being a boy. “Times have changed since then. Obviously, I wasn’t his favourite guy back then,” said Spezza. “I’m a little more of a complete player, an older guy now.” ... Not so fast on speculation that Jesse Winchester — out since Dec. 20 with concussion problems — could be ready to return to the lineup. “I’m close, but still feel not quite there,” said Winchester. “Just the head. I feel in great shape, I feel my timing is good and all that stuff. But there’s still a few things I’m still working through. Until they clear totally, I won’t be playing.” Despite reportedly passing the league “protocol” for a return from concussions earlier, Winchester said he still has lingering symptoms. “It’s so hard to explain to someone who’s not feeling it,” he said. “But there are still a few things that are affecting me. It’s not major, but I just want to make sure that when I come back, I’m not feeling any of that.”