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Spezza anxious to shoulder load with teammates

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators centre Jason Spezza is pointing toward a return to the lineup on Saturday against the Islanders in Uniondale, N.Y. Ottawa has gone 1-10-4 since a right shoulder injury sidelined its No. 1 centre on Dec. 26 (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

Jason Spezza's value to the Ottawa Senators has never been more obvious.

Since the team's No. 1 centre went down with a right shoulder injury on Dec. 26, the Senators have limped to a 1-10-4 record, dampening their post-season hopes. They haven't won at home in more than a month and are currently winless in eight games.

But the 27-year-old Toronto native hopes to have a major hand in changing all of that when the Senators begin a four-game road trip Saturday night in Uniondale, N.Y., against the Islanders (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). After taking part in a full practice with his teammates at Scotiabank Place today, Spezza said he's excited about the possibility of ending his 15-game absence from the Ottawa lineup.

"I'm hoping to play Saturday," he said. "I think I can bring a positive attitude and give the guys a little bit of jump. Sometimes when you can inject some different guys into the lineup, it helps the group out and maybe gives other guys confidence, too. I definitely want to come back and play well and help us get some wins."

Spezza admitted it's been "really tough" watching from the Senators' downward spiral from the sidelines. At 17-27-8, the Senators stand 13th in the Eastern Conference, 15 points beyond a post-season berth. They're struggled mightily at times to score goals, though encouragement in that area was supplied during Wednesday night's 7-5 loss to the Detroit Red Wings at Scotiabank Place.

"The guys haven't been doing well," said Spezza. "You can see the effort is there but we’re just not finding ways to win games right now, so hopefully I can come back and give a little jolt of energy, bring a little positivity to the dressing room and get us off on the right foot. (We need to) get back to getting a few more wins and having a good time around here."

Though it's hardly the sole reason for their current skid, Senators head coach Cory Clouston doesn't underestimate the impact Spezza's absence has had on the team.

"We're so much better when he's in the lineup," said Clouston. "He does so many little things that don’t show up on the scoresheet. A perfect example is the faceoff department. We’ve lost a couple of games where we’ve given up the winning goal directly resulting from a lost faceoff. Last night on the power play, we lose two faceoffs late in the game. He’s generally very good in that area.

"(Spezza) also draws attention. He relieves pressure off other guys. When he’s out there, usually the other (team’s) top defensive pairing is out there against him, which relieves pressure against other lines."

While he's "shooting pain free" at the moment, Spezza acknowledged taking faceoffs "will probably be the last thing to come" in terms of being 100 per cent. With that thought in mind, Clouston plans to play Nick Foligno who's lined up as a centre in the past on Spezza's flank to at least start Saturday's game.

"I'd be happy to do that and help him out," Foligno said about the prospect of taking faceoffs. "I know that scenario and I'm comfortable with it. I've played centre before. But it's just nice to have Jason back. He adds another dimension to our team."

Around the boards

Clouston indicated the Senators are leaning toward taking rookie goaltender Robin Lehner on their upcoming four-game road trip, which includes stops in Vancouver (Monday), Calgary (Wednesday) and Edmonton (Feb. 12). "As of now, it looks like that's the way it is," he said ... Defenceman Matt Carkner (lower body) didn't practise today. "We're not sure about the extent of it," said Clouston." But we're hoping it's not too bad." ... Assuming he stays in the lineup for the entire road trip, Spezza is slated to play his 500th career National Hockey League game against the Oilers. He needs just five points to hit the 500 mark in that category as well.

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