At 25 years old, he's anything but a grizzled old veteran of the National Hockey League wars.
But age, it's been said, is all relative. And Jason Spezza
believes his four-plus years of NHL experience can do nothing but help elevate the games of his two more youthful new linemates -- second-year forward Nick Foligno
and rookie Jesse Winchester
|Anton Volchenkov (left), Luke Richardson (centre) and Chris Phillips watch some blackboard instruction during Senators practice at Scotiabank Place along with assistant coach Curtis Hunt. |
"I have to make sure that I'm good and help those guys out," Spezza said in discussing head coach Craig Hartsburg's latest attempt to balance out the team's scoring beyond the top line. "Nicky's played really well (this season) and Winch is a good guy along the boards. I think we can be an effective line.
"I've been around now for a little bit, and we probably won't be facing the top checking from the other team's top defence. I've got to find a way to take advantage of that, and if we can be a successful line, it can only help the team."
In the wake of Saturday's disappointing 4-2 loss to the Boston Bruins, Hartsburg shuffled his lines, moving Mike Fisher between captain Daniel Alfredsson
and Dany Heatley on the No. 1 unit. But in the process, the Senators coach believes he's presented Spezza with an opportunity to expand his leadership role within the team dynamic.
The new combinations will make their debut Wednesday night, when the Florida Panthers visit Scotiabank Place for the teams' first meeting of four this season (7 p.m., TSN, Team 1200).
"A guy like Jason, we need to put more responsibility on him," said Hartsburg. "He's a really good player in this league and we think he can be a good player on another line with other players. We do it with Alfredsson for the same reason, to try to create another (scoring) line and we think Jason should be able to do that for us."
Foligno, one of the team's top forwards this season going all the way back to training camp, welcomes the chance to line up alongside one of the league's most creative playmakers.
"He's a great player," said Foligno. "We just want to make sure we're working hard on both sides of the puck. I think Spezz knows that and Winch as well. It's going to be a matter of working hard and making sure we get the puck on our sticks more than the other team, and just playing a solid team game."
Flanking Spezza is nothing new for Winchester, who started the pre-season playing with the high-scoring centre and Heatley, and spent time on that line in Alfredsson's absence during the home-opener against the Detroit Red Wings. He calls the chance to reunite with Spezza "exciting."
"(Spezza) is one of the best playmakers in the game, I'd say. He makes so many things happen offensively," said Winchester. "He's got all the experience. I think it's good for him to take on a little bit more responsibility. Having to take us under his wing, I think, will be really good for him."
In Spezza's mind, though, the bottom line is the bottom line.
"If we want to win hockey games, we have to adapt (to changes)," he said. "We may go through times like last year, when a bunch of guys got hurt before the playoffs. But if we're used to playing with different guys, we'll adapt a little better if we run into circumstances like that again."Around the boards
Martin Gerber returns to the Senators net on Wednesday and Hartsburg has also tabbed him to go back between the pipes on Saturday, when a visit to Toronto's Air Canada Centre to face the Maple Leafs opens a four-game road trip. Alex Auld
gets the start Friday at Scotiabank Place against the Anaheim Ducks (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet East, Team 1200) ... Fewer than 1,000 tickets remain for Wednesday's meeting with the Panthers, while only 750 are left for Friday.