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Senators seeing results since turning to rookies

by Mike G. Morreale
NEWARK, N.J. -- It appears the future is now for the Ottawa Senators.
With only 17 games remaining in the regular season, the Senators are currently sitting last in the NHL with 22 wins and 53 points. It's certainly not the scenario General Manager Bryan Murray, coach Cory Clouston and veteran center Jason Spezza envisioned.
"We want to win a lot of games down the stretch and try to make ourselves better," Spezza said. "We're not going to watch the standings and sweat over what is going on around us. We're worried about ourselves and playing as well as we can every night. But you don't want to be in last place, so as players, we want to win as many games as we can."
Despite the fact Murray unloaded six veterans in the days and hours leading up to the Feb. 28 trade deadline in return for a multitude of draft picks, Spezza has been encouraged. The Senators have won four of their last seven games, including an impressive 4-1 victory over the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 26. He hopes it will continue on Tuesday against the red-hot New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.
"If you would have told me at the start of the year that I'd be playing on a line with (Bobby) Butler and (Colin) Greening and pretty happy with how things are going, I would have thought you were crazy," said Spezza, who missed 15 games with a shoulder injury but has 12 goals and 33 points in 45 games this season. "But it's turned out to be pretty good and it's been a good mix for me and them."
Spezza has every intention of playing out his contract that expires following the 2014-15 season and doing whatever he can to assist his teammates along the way. In November 2007, he inked a seven-year contract extension worth $49 million, so he's in it for the long haul.
"I think I will have a bigger role around here and be looked to contribute every night," Spezza said. "We still have to add a few pieces moving forward to be competitive for a full season. With the right energy and the right mix of young and old guys, I think this could be a team that turns it around really quick and I can be a part of that.
"I've definitely learned a lot from this season. There's been a lot of lows this year that kind of get you soul searching to find what you have to do better as a player."
Fact is, the injury bug has really hit the Senators hard this season. On Monday, the club announced that forward Peter Regin would miss the next 4-to-6 months after undergoing shoulder surgery and Spezza's linemate, Milan Michalek, would be sidelined a month with a broken left foot. Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson is out indefinitely with a back injury and longtime teammates Mike Fisher, Chris Kelly, Jarkko Ruutu, Brian Elliott, Alex Kovalev and Chris Compoli were all traded for future assets.
"It's a double-edged sword," Spezza said. "You want to win games and want to play well with your friends, but if you're not, you know the changes are going to come. So I lost really good friends and guys I've been with for a long time, but we're also in the result business and we have to win games. It's a better atmosphere when you're winning hockey games, so if the recent movement gets to winning us more games, I'm fine with making changes."
That includes working between rookies Greening and Butler on the team's top line.
Greening, a 6-foot-3, 211-pound Newfoundlander who has been shuttled back and forth between Ottawa and Binghamton this season, scored his first NHL goal on March 3 in a 3-1 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers. He's been excited riding shotgun on a line with Spezza.
"He's always giving me little tidbits that are important on and off the ice," Greening told "He'll always give those little suggestions and it's always constructive and very supportive. He's done a really good job, so it's great to be on a line with him because I don't feel overwhelmed with everything he's given me. He's just one of those guys you can just go out and play with, so there's always a few things here and there."
Clouston has been pleased with Spezza's demeanor following the recent changes to the roster.
"I think he's been excellent with the young guys," Clouston said. "His energy level has been good in practice and he's been enthusiastic in the dressing room. He's playing a lot of minutes right now and taking important faceoffs. I think there are always areas of his game that we'll criticize. When he creates offensive opportunities and we score them, it's great, but if there's turnovers, than obviously that's not what we want. It's a matter for him to always find that fine line between not handcuffing his creativity and making sure he manages the puck at the right time."
In fact, Spezza has enjoyed playing with the youngsters. Since being recalled on Feb. 9, Butler has produced 6 goals in 11 games alongside Spezza.
"Butsy's a guy who can score and he shoots the puck well and has a lot of energy," he said. "Colin is just a big horse who goes to the net hard. It seems like he's always the first guy in on the forecheck and skates really well. He probably has better puck skills than I think anyone thought. It seems like our line has three different dimensions, and we've fed off each other well."
Greening, who has 14 goals and 37 points in 55 games with Binghamton this season, has enjoyed his time with the big club and just hopes to make a good impression down the stretch.
"I can't speak for the veteran guys, but the atmosphere in the dressing room has been great and everyone's having fun," he said. "If you look at the last few games we've played, we've been doing a lot better of late, even in the games we've lost. A few mistakes are sometimes all it takes to lose. But everyone is positive and happy about the direction we're going.
"Personally, I'm still learning at this level because all the players are so skilled and fast that you need to kind of get acclimatized and get used to the players you play against," Greening added. "Each game, I gain more confidence."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale
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