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Spezza pointing toward return

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Jason Spezza took a big stride Monday toward rejoining the Ottawa Senators lineup.

But the team’s No. 1 centre admitted it’s still too soon to say whether he’ll be healthy enough to suit up against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., A-Channel, Team 1200).

“It felt good to skate with the guys,” Spezza said after his first full practice with the team since suffering a groin injury on Oct. 30. “(Playing Thursday) is my goal. It’s still a few days away, but hopefully it can get better than it is now and I’ll be ready to go.”

While he’s still feeling some pain, Spezza indicated his conditioning level hasn’t really left him, “so I don’t anticipate that being a problem.”

“At first, I didn’t plan on staying out the whole (practice), and I ended up staying out there. That’s definitely a positive.”

Head coach John Paddock agreed the Monday practice, which he deemed “a pretty brisk skate,” was a good first test for Spezza, who's missed six games because of the groin injury. But he quickly added it’s not nearly the same as a full game situation.

“He did more constant skating (in practice) than he will in any game,” said Paddock. “But there’s still a difference. When you’re playing in a game for real, you stride a little bit harder, you stop a little bit quicker.

“That’s where he’ll have to make sure he’s comfortable about what he’s able to do.”

While Spezza said he’s “extremely tired of watching” games instead of playing in them, he also knows it’s too early in the season to rush himself back.

“I’ve got to know whether it’s good or not, especially when you have (an injury) right away at the start of the year,” he said. “I’ve been skating pretty hard with Randy (Lee, the team’s strength and conditioning coach) the last couple of days. Still, just getting up to 100 per cent speed is a bit of a problem, so a day like today should help.

“Hopefully, (Tuesday) it feels stronger.”

Spezza’s teammates are hoping for the same.

“It’s good to see he’s getting closer (to a return),” said captain Daniel Alfredsson. “We’re all hoping he’s going to come back this week.”

Mike Fisher has been called upon to fill the top-line centre spot between Alfredsson and Dany Heatley, a role he’s performed in typically energetic fashion.

 “I think he’s been tremendous all along,” said Paddock. “He’s obviously a different kind of player than Spezza in terms of creativity. But when Alfie and Fisher are on the ice together, the other team must cringe because they know there’s going to be a level of work ethic there and a hounding of the puck.

“You’re not going to have much room to breathe.”

Added Alfredsson: “You know what you’re going to get every game (with Fisher). He’s going to go in there and work hard. He can play a skill game, too. He’s a pretty well-rounded player”

Around the boards

Winger Dany Heatley tweaked a hip and left practice early, but Paddock expects he’ll be at practice Tuesday … Goaltender Ray Emery also departed the ice early because of back spasms … Less than 1,500 tickets remain for Thursday’s game. Only 250 are left for the first visit of the season by Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 22.

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