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Spezza returns to Ottawa lineup

by Eric Gilmore /

SAN JOSE -- Captain Jason Spezza will return to the lineup after missing one game with a groin injury, and backup goaltender Robin Lehner will make his first start of the season Saturday night when the Ottawa Senators face the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center.

Spezza, who sat out Ottawa's 4-3 overtime loss Wednesday to the Los Angeles Kings, centered the top line with Milan Michalek and Bobby Ryan during the Senators morning skate. He skated Thursday and practiced with the team in San Jose on Friday.

"I've had two really good practice days," Spezza said. "We skated pretty hard on the off day then had a good practice day yesterday. No ill effects, so I imagine hopefully it will be somewhat smooth sailing from here on in.

"I feel like it's behind me, but I'll feel better after getting through the first game. Then you get some confidence in it, but we've skated hard on it, so I'm pretty confident that it's all gone."

Spezza has more goals (229), assists (393) and points (622) than any other current Senator. Ottawa coach Paul MacLean said Spezza has been "one of the best players in the League for a while" and his return makes the Senators a "much better team, a much deeper team and a more dangerous team."

Lehner drew a tough assignment for his first start in place of the season. The Sharks are 4-0-0 and have outscored their opponents 21-5. Three of those wins came on home ice, including a 9-2 rout of the New York Rangers in their most recent home game on Tuesday.

But Lehner is looking forward to the tough challenges.

"I'm pretty excited. This is what they've been teaching me to do the last few years," Lehner said. "Most of my games have been pretty on-the-line games. Last year was mostly against Boston in their building. They're pretty good too. I like positions like this, make it or break it. I'm excited."

Lehner, who was called up last season from Binghamton of the American Hockey League on Feb. 22, went 5-3-4 with the Senators with a 2.20 goals-against average. He faced Boston five times -- three on the road -- allowing just 11 goals on 196 shots. But his only win against the Bruins came in his final regular-season start on April 28 when he stopped 34 of 36 shorts. In a 3-2 loss at Boston on April 2, he matched a Senators franchise record with 47 saves on 50 shots.

"He's a guy that's going to be a star in this League," Spezza said. "It's nice for him to get a chance to play. We're fortunate we've got two great guys in net."

The Senators are playing the first of back-to-back games Saturday and will face the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday. MacLean said playing the first game will give Lehner more time to settle in and prepare.

"Every team in the League is a good team," MacLean said. "Every game he plays is going to be against a good team. For us, it had more to do with feeling that this was the right game to put him in. He's been working hard . It's a back-to-back situation. So do you play him in the first one or second one? We just felt tonight was the time to give him an opportunity and let him run with it."

So what does MacLean want to see from Lehner in his first start?

"We just want to see him play," MacLean said. "Robin last year came in and played very well for us in the time when he was here and Craig was injured. He won in some big buildings and won some big games and played very consistent throughout his time last year, and throughout training camp he's been consistent. We just want to see him do the same thing."

Ottawa will have to wait to see whether defenseman Joe Corvo will be able to start Saturday night's game. Corvo was hit in the left eye by a puck during the morning skate. If Corvo can't play, then Eric Gryba would skate with Chris Phillips.

"We're going to evaluate that and we'll see if we need to do something about it," MacLean said. "They're still evaluating it. If we need to make a change we will, but at this point we don't plan to."

Here are the projected lineups for the Senators and Sharks:


Milan Michalek - Jason Spezza - Bobby Ryan

Clarke MacArthur - Kyle Turris - Cory Conacher

Colin Greening - Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Erik Condra

Zack Smith - Stephane Da Costa - Chris Neil

Marc Methot - Erik Karlsson

Jared Cowen - Patrick Wiercioch

Chris Phillips - Joe Corvo

Robin Lehner

Craig Anderson

Scratched: Eric Gryba, Matt Kassian


Tomas Hertl - Joe Thornton - Brent Burns

Patrick Marleau - Logan Couture - Tyler Kennedy

Matt Nieto - Joe Pavelski - Tommy Wingels

James Sheppard - Andrew Desjardins - Matt Pelech

Matt Irwin - Dan Boyle

Marc-Edouard Vlasic - Justin Braun

Scott Hannan - Jason Demers

Antti Niemi

Alex Stalock

Scratched: Brad Stuart (suspended)

Injured: Adam Burish (lower body) Martin Havlat (pelvic surgery), Raffi Torres (knee surgery).

NOTES: Demers took a "maintenance day" Friday but was on the ice Saturday morning and will start against Ottawa. "Just a rest day," Demers said. "I'm all good. I'm healthy."

The Sharks will stick with the same lineup they used in their 4-1 win Thursday night at Vancouver.

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