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Spezza edging closer to return to Senators lineup

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Goaltender Pascal Leclaire, who's been sidelined by a groin injury, took part in Senators practice today and is progressing toward a return to game action, although no timetable has been set yet for a specific date (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

The news just keeps getting better for the Ottawa Senators this week.

Fresh off their first back-to-back victories of the season, the Senators welcomed Jason Spezza back to the practice ice earlier today. And the team's No. 1 centre said afterward that he's "cautiously optimistic" he'll suit up against the Boston Bruins on Saturday night at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).

"It felt real nice to get out there and practise again," said Spezza, who sat out the last four games while nursing a groin injury. "It felt pretty good today. I worked hard over the week to try to feel better and I really want to get into the lineup. As long as I feel good this afternoon, I'm hoping to play."

Spezza is also hopeful that a return against the Bruins will be a sign that this particular ailment is behind him for good.

"I feel like I can play and contribute and play well," he said. "I just want to make sure that I’m healthy and (the team) wants to make sure that I’m healthy. I don’t want this to be a nagging thing. We’re hoping that once I play, that’s the end of it."

The Senators have posted a 3-1-0 record in Spezza's absence and got goals from five different players in Thursday's 5-3 victory over the Florida Panthers. While head coach Cory Clouston admitted "it's tough to break up a couple of lines that are playing well," he'll gladly find a way to make room for Spezza.

"Other guys have stepped it up in his absence," said Clouston. "We're still a much better team overall when he's playing for us. What we need, when he comes back in the lineup, is for the guys who stepped it up not to have a little bit of a letdown. We need them to continue with their elevated play and we'll be much better for it."

Added captain Daniel Alfredsson: "It's a great boost for us to have (Spezza) back practising with us and getting closer. Hopefully, he can play tomorrow. It's good to see him recovering and getting better."

"I feel like I can play and contribute and play well. I just want to make sure that I’m healthy and (the team) wants to make sure that I’m healthy. I don’t want this to be a nagging thing. We’re hoping that once I play, that’s the end of it." - Jason Spezza
Along the same lines, goaltender Pascal Leclaire (groin) took part in the first 20 minutes of practice today, a good indication that he's moving closer to a return to game action. But Clouston didn't want to predict an exact timetable for Leclaire's return just yet.

"The plan was to skate him in the morning before we went out there and then participate about 15 to 20 minutes of drills," he said. "(Leclaire) did that and went off and I think everything was fine. With those type of injuries, we want to just keep progressing. We’ll wait and see how he is tomorrow. There’s a good chance he’ll skate with us tomorrow morning and we’ll take it day by day. By all indications, he had a good skate for 15 or 20 minutes, felt the pucks and got off."

Meanwhile, the Senators want to keep the wins coming when the Bruins and red-hot goaltender Tim Thomas — a longtime Ottawa nemesis — pay their first visit to the capital on Saturday night.

"We know Boston is one of the best teams defensively in the league," said Alfredsson. "Hopefully, we can get to them early and force them to open it up a little bit. It will be a real tight game, (but) we want to keep this thing going and look for the same energy we've had the last couple of games.

"It's going to be harder tomorrow because they check harder in the neutral zone. If we can skate and put a lot of pressure on them, we'll have a good chance."

Around the boards

Defenceman Filip Kuba is also pushing closer to a return to the lineup. Clouston said the veteran blueliner, who suffered a broken right leg on the opening day of training camp in September, "skated this morning and skated well. We might have him for tomorrow morning's practice and then we've got a couple of days to evaluate how that went. So he's really progressing well." ... Forwards Alex Kovalev and Milan Michalek, along with defenceman Chris Phillips, took "maintenance" days off practice but are expected to be in the lineup against the Bruins ... Saturday is Canadian Forces Appreciation Night at Scotiabank Place and, besides taking the time to salute the troops, the Senators have also put on a great show for them. Ottawa is 5-0-1 on six previous CF nights.

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