Jason Spezza made an about-face this season and, as a result, so did the Ottawa Senators.
It's a credit to Spezza's natural ability and desire to bring out the best in his teammates. It's also why the Senators will need their seven-season veteran to continue his production when the Stanley Cup Playoffs start.
Spezza had just 5 goals and 19 points in 30 games prior to missing 20 matches from Dec. 16 through Jan. 21 with a knee injury. Upon his return, he was nothing short of spectacular, scoring 18 goals and 38 points over his team's final 29 games of the season.
Most impressive is the fact Spezza has been thriving without Dany Heatley at his side for the first time in five seasons. Heatley was dealt to the San Jose Sharks in September in a deal that landed the Senators Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo. Sure, he still centers captain Daniel Alfredsson, but Spezza has worked well with both Michalek and rookie Peter Regin.
"You're measured by wins and losses nowadays," Spezza said. "I've already established myself as a guy who can score in this League. Now, it's got to be a guy who can win, but I don't see why I can't score and us win."
By his standards, Spezza was coming off a disappointing season in 2008-09 after scoring 32 goals and 73 points -- a drop of 19 points from the previous season. He also had a career-low minus-14 rating. Despite playing in 22 fewer games than 2008-09, Spezza finished with only 9 fewer goals and 7 fewer assists this season while notching two more game-winning goals (5-3). He also won 50.5 percent of his faceoffs.
How bad do the Senators need Spezza to produce? When the team was eliminated in four games by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008, Spezza was held without a goal for the first time in three playoff seasons.
"Playoffs are the goal of every team at the start of the year," Spezza said. "Once you get into the playoffs, everybody has got a chance to win. If you get hot, and get good goaltending, then you can get rolling. That's obviously our focus."
It goes without saying that Spezza, who led the team with a 13.9 shooting percentage among players with at least 20 games under their belt, is a key component to making the Senators offense click.
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org