Top pair hard to beat

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:47 AM ET

Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza are about as close to inseparable as you can get on the ice with the Senators.

For all the mixing, matching and shuffling coach Bryan Murray has done over the last two years, the duo have been left to do what they do.

Probably because they do it pretty well.

"They're a pair," said Murray. "They complement each other and we have to have them carry a lot of the offence for us. Whether they have a different right winger on occasion or not, they have to create scoring chances and that's through skill."

Heatley became the first NHLer in six years to record back-to-back 50-goal seasons and it would be easy to say it was business as usual.

But there was an important development in the career paths of both players.

Heatley showed he could be a scorer without Spezza.

Spezza showed he could be a scorer and not just a passer.

When Spezza was out from mid-December to mid-January, Heatley showed he could be much more than a shooter.

He had 10 goals and 14 assists in the 14 games Spezza was out with a knee injury. He showed himself to be developing into a well-rounded player to the point Murray has been using him to kill penalties.

After scoring 19 goals last year, Spezza turned into more of a shooter this year and potted 34. "I think he's always been satisfied being the playmaker and being in that role. He has a great shot. He's quite an accurate shooter and that's a part of his game that's emerging," said Murray.

Spezza has been taking better care of the puck, but can still commit the spectacular turnover. He did against Pittsburgh last week with a spinning, no-look, backhand pass just inside the Penguins' blue line.

'GREAT STRIDES'

"He was playing very well and I thought he was very competitive and then he made a play like that that he didn't have to even try," said Murray. "I said, 'All you've done is show everybody you're still careless with the puck.' When he gets away from that -- and I believe he has made great strides -- watching him in practice, I think his work ethic is better without the puck. I think he is competing. He's willing to go in and be the deep man in the defensive zone and check.."

Murray thinks Heatley and his teammates were distracted a little down the stretch by Heatley's pursuit of 50 goals.

"I'm glad he got the 50th and we don't have to worry about that anymore," said Murray. "I think he'll relax and be more effective around the net, as well. We're even trying to put him in some situations now where he's the guy making the pass."

The Senators will look to Spezza and Heatley to carry the offensive load in the playoffs. Spezza led the team in playoff scoring last year with 14 points in 10 games, while Heatley had three goals and nine assists.

Spezza has only been around the team since 2003, but he knows about the Senators' playoff baggage.

"We're a different team now," he said. "If you look at the past they had five or six years ago, some of the failures against the Leafs ... not many of us were involved in that.

"It's fun for the media and everyone to look at it and say we're underachievers and stuff, but we're a bunch of younger guys coming up. ... We want to get rid of that stigma, but we're not going to lose sleep over it.

"Once you win, you're considered winners," Spezza said. "We feel like this year, we have a good opportunity and we want to make the most of it."


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