Spezza foresees shadow

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

When Jason Spezza and roomie Joe Corvo checked into the Senators' hotel in New Jersey yesterday afternoon, John Madden was not already there, hadn't cracked open the snacks from the minibar, taken over the remote control or left his underwear on a pile on the floor.

But Spezza can expect to share a lot of personal space with the Devils centre over the next week or more, starting tonight in Game 1.

The Devils are old school in a lot of ways, from banning facial hair to matching lines.

Madden and wingers Jay Pandolfo and Sergei Brylin will be on the ice against Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson.

The job Madden's group does against the Senators' top offensive line will go a long way toward determining how hard Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur has to work in this series -- and the direction of the series itself.

This is nothing new for Spezza, of course.

Since he was a 15-year-old with the Brampton Battalion of the Ontario Hockey League, up through his couple of years in the American Hockey League and now in the NHL, Spezza has been subjected to the shadow treatment.

Madden, who turns 34 next week, has carved out a niche as the NHL's best checker. He won the Selke Trophy in 2001 as the league's top defensive forward and was runner-up in 2003 and '04. Not coincidentally, the Devils won the Cup in 2000 and '03 as Madden was forging his reputation.

Check out the numbers for NHL scoring champ Sidney Crosby this season against the Devils, a divisional rival.

They played eight times, and Crosby had two goals, one on the power play, and four assists.

Crosby was held pointless in 19 games this season; four times against the Devils. No other team held him scoreless more than two games.

Why?

Madden, as much as anything.

Why?

SACRIFICES OFFENCE

"Position," said Spezza. "He's never willing to put himself in a compromising position. He always stays above the guy that he's covering. He doesn't let the guy get a step around him. He's really willing to sacrifice offence for defence. He can still beat you on turnovers and he's still decent offensively, but he's willing to wait all game to shut you down."

The other revealing thing is that despite their roles, Madden and Pandolfo take very few penalties.

Madden had just 14 penalty minutes in the regular season and took just one minor against the Tampa Bay Lightning in their first-round series.

Pandolfo, despite playing all 82 regular-season games, spent just eight minutes in the box, a ridiculously small amount.

He also had one minor penalty against Tampa, which now makes him incredibly undisciplined.

With the way stick fouls are being called, Madden and Pandolfo's penalty-minute totals are truly remarkable and speak to very smart play, great positioning and a willingness to keep their feet moving and not get in a position to have to use the stick.

"They've kind of put together a little recipe and they've stuck to it. They feel if they can stay out of the box and play even, 5-on-5, they can beat teams on the special teams," said Spezza of the Devils, who were the least-penalized team in the in the regular season, adding:

"Their power play is a real playoff power-play, just shooting pucks and getting traffic. That's kind of their recipe for success."

One area where Spezza will be able to help himself is in the faceoff circle. If he can win faceoffs against Madden, Spezza will help himself and his team.

"On the road, they are going to get their matchups, so faceoffs are going to be key just to get us some offensive chances," said Spezza.

"At home they'll be important because they are going to want to change right away."

If the Devils win faceoffs at Scotiabank Place, players will be able to get to the bench and get the matchups coach/GM Lou Lamoriello wants.

The good news is Spezza has improved in the circle. In 2003-04, his first full year in the NHL, he won just 47.7% of his faceoffs. He won 53% of his draws in the regular season this year and 54.3% against Pittsburgh in the first round.

"Before, my numbers were in the mid-forties and against a good guy, I didn't have a chance," said Spezza. "Now my numbers are above 50% and I feel like I can beat anybody on any given night."

Madden won 49.8% of his draws in the regular season, but when it comes to straight head-to-head play, he's not just anybody.


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