The Ottawa Senators hardly missed a beat while Jason Spezza recovered from a knee injury. Now that he's returned, the rest of the NHL has even more reason to worry about facing one of the league's hottest teams.
The Senators look to extend their road winning streak to six when they continue their season series with the Montreal Canadiens.
Spezza was Ottawa's leading scorer with 19 goals and 25 assists in 36 games when he suffered a left knee injury Dec. 21 against Tampa Bay. Despite possessing several other skilled forwards, the Senators (29-20-2) figured to have a difficult time replacing Spezza, who centered All-Star Dany Heatley and captain Daniel Alfredsson on Ottawa's top line.
Ottawa, though, went 11-2-1 without Spezza and didn't struggle at all on offense, averaging just under four goals per game in his absence.
Spezza returned to the lineup Saturday and contributed an assist in a 3-1 victory over visiting Boston.
"The team's been winning, we've been playing pretty tight defensive hockey and scoring a lot of goals, and I wanted to be a part of it," Spezza said.
Patrick Eaves and Chris Neil had goals and Ray Emery stopped 29 shots for the Senators, who have outscored opponents 21-10 during five straight road victories. They haven't won six in a row on the road since March 18-April 5, 2003.
"The third periods have been the difference in a lot of games lately for us," Ottawa coach Bryan Murray said. "But we feel very confident that if we're even or one down, we have the chance to win the game because we find a way and the guys are playing accordingly."
Emery has played very well of late, allowing five goals in his last four games. He ranks fifth in the NHL with a .921 save percentage, the same mark as Montreal's Cristobal Huet, who was selected to the All-Star team.
Another key contributor is close to coming back for the Senators. Center Mike Fisher has missed the past 12 games with a knee injury, but has resumed skating and hopes to return Feb. 3 against Toronto.
The Canadiens (27-18-5) headed into the All-Star break with wins over division leaders Atlanta and Buffalo, but allowed three power-play goals Saturday in a 4-1 loss at Toronto.
"They grabbed the momentum from us with those three power-play goals," Montreal captain Saku Koivu said. "They do play well against us. It seems that their style is tough for us."
Tomas Plekanec scored for the Canadiens, who have lost four of six to fall one point behind the second-place Senators in the Northeast Division.
Much of Montreal's success this season can be attributed to strong special teams play. The Canadiens entered Saturday with the league's fourth-best penalty-killing percentage and ranked second on the power play.
Both units, though, struggled against the Maple Leafs.
"Before the game, we talked about things we had to do and we didn't do any of them. We talked about being disciplined and staying out of the box and we didn't do it," defenseman Sheldon Souray said.
Koivu has been held to one goal in his last 13 games. Him and right wing Michael Ryder, two of the Canadiens' top four scorers, have combined for no goals and two assists in four games against Ottawa this season.
The Canadiens lead the season series 2-1-1.