|Jason Spezza's offensive contributions to the Senators have never been questioned, but now the team's No. 1 centre is rounding out the other parts of his game (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).
For years now, he's been the Ottawa Senators' biggest centre of attention.
Not to mention a guy the opposition generally focuses plenty of its energy trying to defend.
Meet the new Jason Spezza
, who is giving rivals much more to think about than just an offensive threat these days. Whether it's toiling on the penalty kill or taking key faceoffs with the game on the line in the final minutes, the Senators' No. 1 centre is more involved in his team's fate every night. And loving every minute of it.
"Right now, he's doing a lot of good things," head coach Cory Clouston said following Senators practice earlier today at Scotiabank Place. "I think he's complemented his game on the offensive side with a good defensive mindset. He's still working hard to develop that part of his game.
"We're using him on the penalty kill a little bit more right now. He's been very good on the faceoffs. He's wanted to expand his role, he's been given the opportunity to do so and he's making the most of it."
As Spezza is quick to point out, it is indeed all about the opportunity and it's one that came about following conversations between himself and Clouston prior to the season.
"Going into this year, we had talked that (Clouston) would like to get me more involved at the end of games, taking draws and killing penalties," said Spezza. "I made sure coming into camp that I was focusing on that stuff. The offence usually comes (naturally) for me and it was just a matter of working on those little things.
"But without the opportunity, it would be tough for me to say that I’ve gotten better (in those areas). I’ve gotten better because of the opportunity ... A lot of it is getting the opportunity from the coach and making the most of it. I've had some success with it so far."
What it's also given Spezza is a chance to feel more satisfaction following a victory — and the Senators are currently riding a four-game winning streak heading into Thursday's matchup with the Vancouver Canucks at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200) — whether he's hit the scoresheet or not.
"The offence usually comes (naturally) for me and it was just a matter of working on those little things. But without the opportunity, it would be tough for me to say that I’ve gotten better (in those areas). I’ve gotten better because of the opportunity ... A lot of it is getting the opportunity from the coach and making the most of it. I've had some success with it so far." - Jason Spezza
"You want a real chance to be able to play in all situations and contribute to wins," he said. "To feel good when the team wins a game and you don't get on the scoreboard is something I've wanted throughout my career and I'm starting to get it."
Not that the 27-year-old Spezza is completely shelving his interest in offence. Rather, the Senators' playmaker extraordinaire is working harder than ever on putting his own shot to better use. Over the summer months, he set up a net in his backyard and fired dozens of pucks at it every day in an effort to sharpen his wrist shot in particular.
"It doesn't matter how long you've been around, there's always something you can work on. I'm definitely getting more confidence in my shot," he said. "I'm just trying to consciously make more of an effort to shoot a little bit more. It's still a work in progress and there are still nights when I should shoot it a little more than I do. It's definitely a mindset.
"But it's starting to become a little more of a habit."
All of which is helping to make he and current linemates Alex Kovalev and Peter Regin
more of a dangerous trio. They've become a highly effective combination since Clouston did what many considered the unthinkable and put the creative Spezza and Kovalev together.
"It's a nice bonus when they can be creative, but they're not sacrificing their defensive game right now," said Clouston. "A lot of that has to do with Peter. He's a smart, intelligent, responsible player. He skates well and he seems to be the missing puzzle with those two right now."
Said Kovalev: "We're all playing for the same thing, which is to win the game and help the team. We're not fighting against each other for the (scoring lead) or anything like that. We're all doing the same job ... At this point, we're all doing the right things. The most important thing right now is to find that consistency and stay with it, keep producing and keep helping the team."Around the boards
Centre Mike Fisher, forwards Kovalev and Milan Michalek
and goaltender Brian Elliott all took the day off practice, but Clouston expects all four to be available for Thursday's matchup with the Canucks. "(Elliott) is just a little banged up," Clouston said of the goaltender who's started the last 11 games. "It's kind of a nagging injury with Brian. We just want to make sure we're not aggravating it any further." ... Asked about the ailing ankle that continues to keep him out of the lineup, defenceman Filip Kuba
said "nothing new. We're just working on it every day. It's coming. Every day, I'm doing more and more. We'll see when it's going to be the right time (to play)."