Leafs paying Spezza attention

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 5:55 PM ET

Jason Spezza refused to say yesterday whether he'll unveil anymore dazzling tricks against the Maple Leafs tonight.

"I'm not promising anything," the Ottawa Senators No. 1 centre said with a laugh after his club touched down in Toronto. "I'm a creative guy and that was just something I tried and it worked."

Of course, Spezza was referring to his scintillating overtime goal against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night. After making defenceman Sheldon Souray look silly, Spezza deked to his backhand to beat goalie Jose Theodore.

Even the battle-weary Leafs, who were simultaneously losing to the Bruins in Boston, were impressed.

"I thought the move after the fact, with the forehand-backhand in about half a second, was pretty nice," defenceman Bryan McCabe said. "He and (Dany) Heatley are two of the best forwards in the league so you have to have the mindset to know when they are on the ice and where you have to be."

It's about the last thing the Leafs need, this play of Spezza and Heatley. The two youngsters, along with Daniel Alfredsson and 40-year-old goaltender Dominik Hasek, are major reasons for the Senators' 7-1 record.

The Leafs, who remain on a search for their own defensive identity, will have a different look in a sense when they face the Senators for the third time this month.

Coach Pat Quinn had his usual lines together at practice yesterday (minus Matt Stajan, who checked out with the flu, and Mariusz Czerkawski, who was nursing a sore shoulder), but warned changes will be in order. In their previous two meetings, the Senators have defeated the Leafs in shootouts.

"We are going to change all of (the lines), probably," Quinn said after an hour-long practice that was consumed mostly by defensive-zone drills. "We have to try to figure some things out. The lines you would think are our top ones (presumably Jason Allison between Darcy Tucker and Jeff O'Neill, and Eric Lindros between Tie Domi and Chad Kilger), neither one is having a lot of good things happen right now."

No matter what combinations Quinn and his staff decide upon, there's going to be the matter of trying to keep a lid on Spezza.

When the season began just over three weeks ago, he was excited at the prospect of being given the responsibilities that come with being a team's first-line centre.

In the time since, Spezza has responded well to new coach Bryan Murray's challenge. Spezza was seventh in NHL scoring before last night with 14 points(five goals and nine assists) and was plus-6.

Remember when Spezza was 15 years old and was making headlines as he embarked on his junior career with the Brampton Battalion? The potential that many saw in him is being realized.

It helps that talented players finally are allowed to showcase their gifts in the all-holds-barred NHL, but Spezza is maturing at the same time.

"I'm getting the chance to be the top guy, but it's not all about points," the 22-year-old Mississauga native said. "We're winning games and that's more important. If we're winning games, everyone wins. So far, so good."


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