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No spooky chore for Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators centre Jason Spezza is considered "doubtful" for Saturday's matchup with the Atlanta Thrashers because of back woes (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

NHL game notes (PDF) for Ottawa vs. Atlanta match-up.

No Ilya Kovalchuk. Probably no Jason Spezza.

Safe to say, Saturday afternoon's matchup between the Ottawa Senators and Atlanta Thrashers (2 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) could be missing some serious star power. But that seems to be life around the National Hockey League this season.

Kovalchuk, the dangerous Russian sniper with nine goals in eight games so far this season, is gone for three to five weeks with a broken bone in his right foot. Spezza, who sat out during Thursday's 5-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning with a wonky back, has been termed "doubtful" for the Halloween matinee by Senators head coach Cory Clouston.

Trick or treat? Certainly, a little of the former, but perhaps a lot of the latter if the Senators (6-3-2) can find a way to emerge with two points in their final game of the season's first month. However, if Spezza joins defenceman Anton Volchenkov (right elbow) on the sideline, that undoubtedly makes the chore more than just a little tougher.

But a quick look at the other team's bench offers a reminder that the Senators are hardly alone in needing to fill a major void or two in the early going of the 2009-10 schedule.

"Everybody loses their top guys (at some point)," said agitating Senators forward Jarkko Ruutu, whose four goals so far this season rate him among the team leaders in that category (only Milan Michalek, with six, and captain Daniel Alfredsson, with five, have more). "But I don't think it affects you as much as people think.

"It's just another opportunity for a guy who hasn't been able to play in that role. It's a team game and if you play with five guys working together, it (makes you) pretty hard to beat."

Consider it a chance, as well, for the Senators to make the most of the forward depth they added in the off-season.

"We'd love to have (Spezza) in the lineup, but we have a deep team and guys should be able to fill the void," said Nick Foligno, who now finds himself back at centre, his old junior position, between Jonathan Cheechoo and Chris Neil. "That's the whole part of being a team. (Thursday) night, it was unfortunate that we didn't get the job done, but we know we have capable guys in this room that can do it."

But Clouston admitted there is a serious hole in the team's lineup without Spezza, one of the league's top playmakers.

"Everybody loses their top guys (at some point). But I don't think it affects you as much as people think. It's just another opportunity for a guy who hasn't been able to play in that role. It's a team game and if you play with five guys working together, it (makes you) pretty hard to beat." - Jarkko Ruutu
"Even if he’s having an average game, (Spezza) still is a presence and he still is a threat," said Clouston. "We’ve seen it before where he’s maybe not good in the first period or second period for whatever reason and then in the third period, he’s unbelievable. He needs that one opportunity where he can send a guy in alone on a breakaway or that one perfect pass to a wide-open guy.

"He needs to be respected by the opposition. He draws attention from checkers. You can't key on just one line when he’s out there. You miss him in a lot of little areas. His faceoffs have improved a lot and when he wasn’t there (Thursday) night, you do realize how important he is on the draws."

That being said, the Senators intend to stick to the game plan against the Thrashers, no matter who is or isn't in the lineup.

"It doesn’t change our style," said Alfredsson. "We’ve been getting contributions from everybody. We feel we can play four lines, even if Spezza is not in the lineup, and still get production. It’s why we feel good about our foundation 5-on-5. Everybody knows what they’re going to do and can go out there and get the job done."

Around the boards

Goaltender Pascal Leclaire, who was forced out of Wednesday night's game in Florida with dizzy spells related to a bout of the flu, said he'll be good to go Saturday if he gets the call to start. "I'm a lot better today," he said. "This morning, we tried to push a little harder just to make sure I wasn't getting dizzy. I've still got the sniffles a little bit but my head felt good, so I'm ready to go." ... Forward Alex Kovalev, who suffered a cut on the bridge of his nose when checked into the glass near the end of the bench by Tampa's Kurtis Foster, was given the day off practice today ... Fewer than 2,500 tickets remain for Saturday's game against the Thrashers, with a number of Halloween-related activities and giveaways planned. It's also a Subway Savings Game, with all regular-priced tickets available for 20 per cent off.

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