Spezza draws tough duty

CHRIS STEVENSON -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

BUFFALO -- At some point yesterday afternoon, Jason Spezza was going to sit down and watch some videos.

It wasn't going to be Blood Diamond -- though that might be a good theme for the playoffs -- but video of faceoffs.

Fun, huh?

It's all in the details now and the significance of one play is not lost on Spezza, the centre on the Senators' top line who will likely have a lot of face time against Buffalo Sabres centre Chris Drury.

This is a different challenge than the one Spezza faced in the first two rounds. In the opening round, he was up against Art Ross Trophy-winner Sidney Crosby. Keeping the puck away from the Penguins star and making him play defence was the goal.

In the second round, it was a former Selke Trophy winner and defensive specialist in New Jersey's John Madden. Taking care of the puck and not letting the Devils counterattack were the priorities on top of dealing with the tight-checking.

Now here comes Drury, a mix of the two, coming off a career best 37-goal regular season and leading the Sabres in playoff goals with seven.

While he has been putting up those numbers, he has also been playing against the likes of Rangers star Jaromir Jagr.

Drury also got some consideration for the Selke Trophy this season as the NHL's top defensive forward. He was third in the league in winning faceoffs among centres who took them regularly at 58.8%, behind only Yanic Perreault of Phoenix and Toronto (62.8%) and Rod Brind'Amour of Carolina (58.8%).

Sabres coach Lindy Ruff shook up his lines in Game 5 of the last series against the Rangers, putting Drury between Jochen Hecht and Dainius Zubrus, and that's the line that's expected to go up against the Spezza line.

"They thrive on turnovers," said Spezza. ''(Drury's) good on draws and he's won the Cup. They are going to be looking for turnovers and they can put the puck in the net.

"Why we had success against Madden is because we did a good job of protecting the puck. If you keep putting yourself in good positions, you're not chasing the puck."

Spezza will watch the video of Drury in the faceoff circle, though he's not expecting to learn anything new.

"That's all I watch now is other centres' faceoff tapes," he said. "There's only so much you can learn. It's going to be a battle to do well against him. He has a lot of success against righties, especially on the right side. He takes them on his forehandand he does it differently than anybody else. He likes to sweep his stick through (the dot).

"There's so much emphasis on draws now, you just don't catch anybody sleeping."

The draws are important for puck possession (obviously) and they're the reason why the Sabres were able to get a couple of last-minute goals against the Rangers.

They're also important now for coaches to get matchups on the ice. If a team wins draws, it can either hang onto the puck or put it in a place that allows teammates to change and get the line or the defensive pairing the coach wants on the ice against a specific opponent.

Spezza's winning percentage in these playoffs is 50.9%, down from 53% in the regular season. Like Spezza said, you don't catch anybody sleeping in the playoffs.

Drury's is down from that 58.8% to 52.3% in the playoffs.

Hear and there

Sabres defenceman Brian Campbell said he thought this meeting between the Senators and the Sabres was unavoidable with what happened between the two teams this season. "World War Whatever, eh?" said Campbell, the former 67's star. "It kind of seemed it was inevitable it would happen at some point. I think it's the two best teams in the East. I think Ottawa's proven they were right up there in the regular season with us ... It's going to be a fun series, it's going to be fun for the fans and the cities. They don't like each other too much." ... You can say what you want about Buffalo (and you probably will), but you can't question the devotion of Sabres fans. Crosby had the best-selling sweater, but Sabres players claimed the next six spots. Despite the fact they are in one of the smaller NHL markets, the Sabres once again led the league in sales on its website last month, the eighth-straight month they've done that. Imagine if they sold Buffalo wings on the site, too?

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca


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