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Spezza doing plenty right -- except scoring goals

Wednesday, 11.25.2009 / 2:07 PM / NHL Insider

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

NEWARK, N.J. -- The last time Jason Spezza struggled to find his scoring touch to open a season, he finished with a few of the highest totals of his career.

That was 2007-08 when, after scoring just once in the first 14 games of the season, the Ottawa Senators center managed personal bests of 92 points, 6 game-winning goals and a plus-26 rating. He also tied a career-high with 34 goals.

Spezza is up to his old tricks once again this season. Or, at least, that's what teammates and coaches are hoping is the case, because through 19 games this season, he has just one goal -- Nov. 5 in a 3-2 victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

And while there are signs of Spezza snapping out of his offensive doldrums -- he's made a more conscious decision to play better defensively while still ranking fourth on the team with 46 shots -- the biggest question is what is holding him back.

The Senators, who visit Prudential Center to face the Devils on Wednesday, certainly could use Spezza's scoring touch right about now, as second-line center Mike Fisher has been ruled out of tonight's game with an upper-body injury.

Fisher, who will miss his first game of the season, is tied for the team lead in goals (10) with Milan Michalek and is second in points (21) behind captain Daniel Alfredsson (23).

"I've been trying to work hard, work my way out of it, but it's been a frustrating start to the year," Spezza told NHL.com. "But we have 60 games left and I'm not just going to roll over. I have a lot of time to make up ground and the team is winning."

Despite the scoring slump, Ottawa coach Cory Clouston has been pleased with Spezza's game.

"He's going to be better, but he's trying to work his all-round game and we want him to be a little more creative, but there's a fine line to being risky and creative," Clouston told the media following the team's morning skate at Prudential Center. "Right now we need him to shoot the puck more. He's a big, strong guy, so he needs to go to the net a little more and he'll turn it around. It'll come to him. I think the last couple games he's been very good on our power play. It's just a matter of time before he starts producing on the power-play, as well."

Senators goalie Brian Elliott, who is the team's starter following an injury to Pascal Leclaire over the weekend, is a first-hand witness to Spezza's defensive improvement this season.

"He's been playing really well and has gotten a lot of assists (12) -- that's his game anyway," Elliott said. "He's been working hard at both ends and is responsible. I've seen the difference and he's helped out our team tremendously."

Spezza feels it's just a matter of time before he snaps out of it.

"You just have to keep sticking with it and play with more patience," he said. "For me, when I slow the game down, that's when I'm at my best. When you're pushing a little bit you become a little anxious with the puck. You just have to relax and take a step back and that's how you get going."

Over the final two periods of a 5-3 victory against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday, Spezza was denied by Buffalo goalie Patrick Lalime on three quality scoring chances. On Monday he was robbed by Washington Capitals goalie Semyon Varlamov on a two-on-one with Alfredsson.

Fisher, meanwhile, doesn't expect his upper-body ailment to sideline him very long. He suffered the injury at his team's morning skate in Ottawa on Tuesday. He still flew to New Jersey with the club, and even though he was a non-participant at Wednesday's practice, was his usual chipper self in the locker room.

Fisher, who was named the NHL's Third Star of the Week on Monday, scored the overtime winner in Monday's come-from-behind 4-3 victory against the Washington Capitals.

"It's tough because things have been going well and the team has been playing good and it's never fun sitting out," Fisher said. "Hopefully I'll be back soon. But I have to be smart. I don't want this thing to linger, so I'll take care of it now and be back soon."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com

It's hard to walk into that locker room and look those guys in the eye when they've played -- clearly, that was our best game we've played in the series -- and I thought we deserved a better fate tonight.

— Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper on his team's 3-2 loss to the Canadiens in Game 3 on Sunday