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Spezza says skating spells success

by Dan Rosen

Jason Spezza, recorded his first career hat trick and career-best six-point game against Montreal on February 9.
Spezza highlights
Ask the other guy, says Ottawa center Jason Spezza.

Do we really have to?

Even if Spezza doesn’t want to talk about it, there’s hardly anybody in the NHL who doesn’t already know that when Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley get together the Senators’ top trio is as intimidating as it is talented.

“Our biggest thing is we always talk about skating,” Spezza said during a conference call with reporters Monday. “We try to make sure we’re skating real well and hounding the puck, moving as much as we can because we feel when we do that as a trio that makes us real tough to stop.”

Tough? Try impossible, at least this past Saturday night against Montreal.

In their first game together since Jan. 12, when Heatley went out with a separated shoulder, the Senators’ top line wracked up 15 points in a 6-1 victory. Spezza had a career-high six point night, including his first career hat trick. Alfredsson had two goals and three assists, and Heatley had a goal and three assists.

Three shifts into the game, Spezza had a pair of goals and Alfredsson, who had missed the previous four games with a hip flexor injury, had his first. Spezza, though, wasn’t at all surprised that the line had instant chemistry despite being apart for nearly a full month and only practicing twice together prior to the game.

“It’s a pretty natural fit for us. We’ve played together now for a couple years, so there’s not too much getting used to each other again,” Spezza said. “You put us in with same linemates, we read off each other pretty good. I think more than anything I was fired up because it was a big game, Alfie was fired up because he was coming back, and Heater was pretty excited because he just came back the night before. So, it was pretty good circumstances for us to play well.”

Having their top line healthy and intact obviously bodes well for the Senators in their pursuit of the top seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but the other important element to come from Saturday’s game was the improved play of goalie Ray Emery.

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Emery, the subject of an array of criticism in recent months, stopped 33 of 34 shots. It was his best performance in a win since stopping 27 of 29 shots in a 3-2 victory over Detroit on Jan. 12, the same night Heatley separated his shoulder.

“Hopefully Saturday can become a turning-point game for him,” Spezza said of Emery. “He looked real confident.”

Goaltending has become such an area of concern in Ottawa that forwards such as Spezza are constantly answering questions about the issue. The concern is somewhat warranted, too, considering the Senators lost eight of 11 prior to winning their last two, allowing an average of four goals in each of those eight losses.

Spezza, though, didn’t seem too concerned about either Emery or Martin Gerber when pressed Monday.

“When those two guys are playing well we’re in a pretty good spot because we’ve got two capable No. 1 guys,” Spezza said. “I think when the team struggled a bit, the goaltenders struggled a bit. That’s going to happen at different times of the year. But, we’ve gone to the Final with those two guys. And, we know if Ray struggles or gets hurt, Marty can come in. If Marty struggles or gets hurt, then Ray can come in.

“Where some teams have depth at other positions, ours has been goaltending, so we’re pretty confident.”

The Senators were given a jolt Monday when GM Bryan Murray shipped young right wing Patrick Eaves and puck-moving defenseman Joe Corvo to Carolina for veteran left wing Cory Stillman and rugged defenseman Mike Commodore.

Stillman, who had 46 points in Carolina this season, was brought in to bolster the Senators’ second line and second power play unit. Commodore adds a physical presence around the net that Murray felt was lacking.

Ironically, the trade was announced less than an hour after Spezza’s conference call concluded. But during the call, Spezza was asked about staying focused during the trading season, and he even mentioned how management could tweak the team a bit.

“This time of the year is always a tricky time of year to make sure everybody stays focused on just winning games because there are a lot of trades,” Spezza said. “They may tweak the team a little bit … but aside from that we feel like we’ve got a pretty good team and we have a pretty good idea of what our team is going to look like after the deadline. We feel like we can win with this team.”

With the trio Ottawa has up front, they’re already ahead in the intimidation game.

“Now that we have a full lineup … we feel like once everybody gets rolling and firing we should be going as a good team and on a good pace into the playoffs,” Spezza said. “And, we feel like we can make a splash.”

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