|With a seven-point outburst last week, Senators centre Jason Spezza earned second star honours from the NHL and also climbed near the top of the league's scoring charts (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images).
When their big guns are silenced, the Ottawa Senators' chances of marching toward victory become greatly diminished.
Fortunately, Jason Spezza has been quick to answer the call to arms.
With a seven-point outburst in three games, the veteran Senators centre earned himself second star honours from the National Hockey League in its weekly awards handed out today. Most importantly, the 28-year-old Spezza played a major role in two victories that helped Ottawa rebound from a 1-5-0 start to its 2011-12 season.
Thursday night against the Winnipeg Jets, Spezza collected a goal and two assists as the Senators posted a 4-1 victory. Two nights later, with defeat at the hands of the winless Columbus Blue Jackets staring Ottawa in the face, he took matters into his own hands. Spezza notched the tying goal at the 19:24 mark of the third period, then drew an assist on Milan Michalek's game-winner with a mere 4.7 seconds left on the clock.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it's only the fourth time in the last 15 years that a team trailing in the final minute of a National Hockey League game rallied to win in regulation time. And the Senators' centre of attention made sure the miracle happened.
"The way our team is set up now, if Jason Spezza, Michalek and (Daniel) Alfredsson aren't able to do a lot of things for us, it's tough getting wins," Senators general manager Bryan Murray said when asked about the play of his No. 1 centre to date. "As the year unfolds and a few more of the young guys get comfortable in playing, we'll be able to spread out that responsibility a little bit more.
"But without a doubt right now, Jason is a key guy offensively for us. And it's an every night thing for us now, not just once in awhile."
Surrounded by a more youthful supporting cast heading into this season, Spezza knew more would be expected of him — and not just on the scoreboard. And he's embraced the situation in a big way.
"The way our team is set up now, if Jason Spezza, Michalek and Alfredsson aren't able to do a lot of things for us, it's tough getting wins. As the year unfolds and a few more of the young guys get comfortable in playing, we'll be able to spread out that responsibility a little bit more. But without a doubt right now, Jason is a key guy offensively for us. And it's an every night thing for us now, not just once in awhile." - Bryan Murray
"I'm getting a great opportunity," said Spezza, who wears an 'A' on his jersey as one of the Senators' alternate captains. "I'm getting a chance to play a lot and influence how our team does. I have to be ready every night and our line has to be good for us to win, and that's how we've approached all the games."
Spezza admits he saw his direction changing toward the end of last season, when the Senators unloaded half a dozen veterans in trades — including leader types such as Mike Fisher and Chris Kelly — and filled their spots with a number of callups from the American Hockey League's Binghamton Senators.
"We made a lot of changes and your role kind of changes," said Spezza, who centres a trio that includes Michalek and Colin Greening. "I know I have to be good and our line, in particular, has to be good. We're playing against top lines and we know, going into games, that we have to do well for us (as a team) to do well."
With four goals and 11 points, Spezza not only leads the Senators in scoring, but he currently ranks third overall in the National Hockey League. While he laughed off suggestions he might contend for the NHL scoring title — much too early, Spezza said — today's award makes it clear his play is being noticed.
"Jason's got a real feel (for the game) right now," said Murray. "When he makes a play around the net — when he passes the puck, when he shoots the puck — he appears more confident than he has in some time. And when you get points in this league, people like you and he got recognized for that.
"I like the fact that he played a big, big part in us winning a couple of hockey games (last) week. In particular, in critical moments late in the game (against Columbus) ... he scored a goal and then he made a big play at the end to allow us to win."
And winners, as we all know, tend to attract the most accolades.
"It's always nice to get recognized," Spezza said of the NHL distinction. "That stuff doesn't happen without good special teams and the team winning and things going well for the group."