'I'm itching to get back'
Spezza could make return to Sens lineup Saturday in Boston
|Senators centre Jason Spezza is hopeful he can join his teammates for their showdown with the Bruins in Boston on Saturday (Christian Petersen/NHLI via Getty Images).
Jason Spezza looked and sounded every bit like someone who's so close to returning to game action he can taste it.
The Senators centre suggested earlier today it's possible he could be back in the lineup when Ottawa closes out its season series against the Bruins on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden in Boston (1 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200). He fully expects his wait won't extend past Tuesday's matchup with the New Jersey Devils at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).
"We’re just going to wait and see," he said after taking part in a brisk practice with his teammates. "It felt pretty good today and we’ll see how it goes the rest of the day. It’ll be a bonus if I can play tomorrow, but Tuesday is looking really good. Hopefully, (it'll be) tomorrow.
"I’m itching to get back."
No matter when it happens, Spezza's return is coming far sooner than anyone anticipated when he went down with a right knee injury on Dec. 14. At the time, the prognosis was rather bleak, with Senators management suggesting they were prepared to be without their No. 1 centre until after the two-week Olympic break in February.
Instead, it looks very much like his recovery time will only last about five weeks.
"It’s gone really well. I’m fortunate," said Spezza. "The biggest thing was, I didn’t have a lot of swelling early on. They say that kind of speeds things up for you. But it’s gone good and I’ve been able to have some good skates. Yeah, I’m happy … it’s a bonus when you can get back ahead of schedule.
"It was pretty grim for me early on with the Olympic (break). I was looking to come back around that time, which would have really brought me to after the Olympics. But I wanted to make sure I got back before then. That’s a long time off. I was pretty diligent in getting ready and it’s gone well."
While Senators head coach Cory Clouston would only go so far as to declare Spezza's status as "possible" for Saturday, there were plenty of signs this morning to suggest the team is preparing to welcome its top centre back into the lineup.
Spezza skated with regular linemates Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek during practice this morning. Afterward, centre Zack Smith learned he had been re-assigned to the Binghamton Senators of the American Hockey League, opening up the necessary spot down the middle to accommodate Spezza's return.
Surely, it would be another boost for a team that has ridden the proverbial rollercoaster in recent weeks. First, there was a five-game losing streak that pushed the Senators to the very edge of playoff positioning. But now they've run off five straight wins to leap up into fifth spot in the Eastern Conference race with a 27-21-4 record.
No matter which end of the spectrum, Spezza wanted to get back to help the cause.
"When the team had lost five in a row, I was probably more anxious to get back playing for the team (just) to help," he said. "Now that the team is playing well, I’m excited to get back and be part of the good feeling they’ve got going on.
It's no coincidence that the Senators' fortunes have begun to turn as the team gradually gets healthier. When Spezza returns, Jesse Winchester will be the only forward left on the injury list, although blueliner Anton Volchenkov -- who left Thursday's game against the St. Louis Blues with an upper-body injury -- is questionable for Saturday.
"We’ve got a few more players that we didn’t have before, which makes a big difference," said Clouston. "It’s a lot more difficult to check against us right now. You can’t shut down one line and close us off. We’ve got a lot more balanced attack.
"You add Milan to the lineup, you add Alfredsson to the lineup, you add Kuba to the back end … it does change a lot. It really does. It gives you more options with Jason coming back."
Not to mention the energy the returnees bring to the mix.
"Energy is the biggest thing (returning players) can bring, especially the way the schedule’s been," said Alfredsson. "It’s a grind at times. You come in and you haven’t played in a few weeks and you feel like this is the best thing in the world, to be able to come back and bring a lot of energy with it."
Around the boards
Smith believes he "left a good impression" during his short stint in Ottawa and is determined to earn himself another recall. "Hopefully, I'll be back up here soon," he said before making the long drive back to Binghamton. "You can't be disappointed (about it). It doesn't do you any good. You've just got to do all the right things down there to get back up here. You definitely have to be in the right frame of mind." ... With three power-play points against the Blues, centre Peter Regin matched a team rookie record originally set by Alexei Yashin (1994) and matched by Martin Havlat (2001).