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Senators might start season without Spezza

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators centre Jason Spezza didn't practise today because of a groin injury he suffered Wednesday and his status remains up in the air for Friday's season-opener against the Buffalo Sabres at Scotiabank Place (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

The Ottawa Senators might be forced to open a new season the same way they finished the last one — feeling the nasty bite of the injury bug.

Senators head coach Cory Clouston revealed earlier today that No. 1 centre Jason Spezza is battling with a groin injury and could miss the team's home and season-opener Friday night against the Buffalo Sabres at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200).

"He's going to be a game-time decision tomorrow," Clouston said of Spezza, who tweaked the groin during a practice session Wednesday at the Bell Sensplex. "We don't think it's going to be long term, if it's going to be any games at all. He's very disappointed that he wasn't able to practise today."

Ottawa is already missing defenceman Filip Kuba, who said today he's likely "three or four weeks" away from returning to the lineup. The Czech blueliner been sidelined since suffering a broken right leg on the first day of training camp.

The current situation is hardly anything new for the Senators, who entered the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring without Kuba and forward Alex Kovalev, then lost Milan Michalek to a season-ending knee injury in the series opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"We’ve had some adversity in the past where we’ve had some key guys out," said Clouston. "We’ve missed games with (Spezza), we’ve missed games with (captain Daniel) Alfredsson, Michalek, Kuba … the list goes on and on with the guys we lost last year at certain times. We’ll just have to make sure we play well as a team if he doesn’t play and guys step it up."

Added Alfredsson: "We're pro athletes. We're used to dealing with this stuff. Someone else is going to get an opportunity. We've got a deep enough team that, especially if we're short a player at times, we can overcome that. (Spezza) is a big part of our team and we can't wait for him to come back, but we'll be fine in the meantime."

Facing a busy schedule of three games in four nights to start the season, the Senators don't want to push Spezza to rush back into the lineup before he's 100 per cent good to go.

"We're not going to push Jason just to get into one game and then, all of a sudden, have him miss four or five games," said Clouston. "We want to make sure that when he's back, he's ready to go and it's not in and out (of the lineup)."

"He's going to be a game-time decision tomorrow. We don't think it's going to be long term, if it's going to be any games at all. He's very disappointed that he wasn't able to practise today ... We're not going to push Jason just to get into one game and then, all of a sudden, have him miss four or five games. We want to make sure that when he's back, he's ready to go and it's not in and out (of the lineup)." - Jason Spezza
With Spezza out of the mix today, Clouston was forced into shuffling his top two lines. Alfredsson, Mike Fisher and Nick Foligno formed the top unit during practice, while Peter Regin was pushed up from the fourth line to centre the second line between Milan Michalek and Alex Kovalev.

"We're comfortable with those lines if that's the way they have to be used," said Clouston.

Regin, who was arguably the Senators' top player in the playoff series against the Penguins, got off to a slow start in training camp and found himself toiling on the fourth line. But Clouston noted the Danish centre turned in his best game of the pre-season in Saturday's 8-5 victory over the New York Rangers at Scotiabank Place.

"I thought (Regin) was very creative, stronger on the puck and had the puck more," said Clouston. "He was more competitive in those little areas, whether it was in the corners or in front of the net, and he was rewarded for it with some points."

Now he might have an opportunity for some prime-time minutes and, Regin said, "if I get a chance to play there, I'll try to make the most of it."

"I'm going to play centre and that's a big change," he added. "I've played with both (Michalek and Kovalev) before and I know what to do, so I'm pretty sure I'll be fine. Whether you'd had a good camp or a bad camp, it's a good opportunity. It's the same now."

Around the boards

The Senators' other two lines in practice today: Jarkko Ruutu-Chris Kelly-Chris Neil and Zack Smith-Jesse Winchester-Ryan Shannon ...  The defence pairings: Chris Phillips-Erik Karlsson, Sergei Gonchar-Chris Campoli and Matt Carkner-Brian Lee ... Fewer than 850 tickets remain for Friday's game against the Sabres, which will feature plenty of Red Zone activity for fans in front of Game 1 at Scotiabank Place starting at 5:30 p.m.


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