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Spezza's on the limp

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
So much for the Ottawa Senators finally getting back to full health.

On a day when Dean McAmmond declared he’s ready to return to the lineup, Senators centre Jason Spezza expressed doubt that he’ll suit up against the Atlanta Thrashers on Thursday night at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., A-Channel, Team 1200).

“If the game was tonight, I wouldn’t be playing,” Spezza said after practice Wednesday morning as he discussed the slight groin strain he suffered during a skating drill the day before. “It’s got to improve significantly for me to play (Thursday).”

While Spezza said “there’s always a chance” he’ll recover well enough to face off against the Thrashers, he’s being cautious, given that the current season is barely a month old.

“Right now, it doesn’t feel that good,” he said. “We’re just going to take it day-to-day and see what happens. I’ve never had groin problems before, so I don’t know the severity of it.

“It’s frustrating because we’ve had one game in the last (11) days, and I’m chomping at the bit to get playing. Then this happens. But we’re definitely going to err on the side of caution because we’re only 10 games in (to the season) and there’s a lot of important games coming up in the future.”

McAmmond, meanwhile, has seen his health take such a good turn that he’s confident he’ll play Thursday night. He’d been waiting for his left shoulder, which was injured on a flagrant hit by Philadelphia Flyers rookie Steve Downie during a pre-season game in September, to regain enough of its strength.

Finally, McAmmond feels like that moment has arrived.

“Physically, I can push off with my arm, so that’s fine,” he said. “I do get some pain, but it’s probably going to be a month before that all goes away.

“I feel like I can give and take a hit, and I’m strong enough to do some work in the corners … that’s good enough to go.”

Head coach John Paddock welcomed that bit of good news.

“There’s the versatility he brings, the penalty killing he brings, the speed he brings,” said Paddock. “But we should all temper our immediate expectations. (McAmmond) hasn’t played a meaningful game since he was hurt (in the Stanley Cup final) … it’s been a long time and everybody else is at full speed.

“It’s not breaking him in gently, but you’ve got to get your legs back under you in game situations.”

Who fills the top-line position if Spezza isn’t ready?

Paddock said he isn’t sure yet, suggesting it could be any of Mike Fisher, Randy Robitaille or Chris Kelly. Robitaille skated between Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson during practice Wednesday.

“Randy will play there on the power plays for sure,” said Paddock. “Past that, I don’t know. Fish was going there last year until he got hurt. We only won 12 out of 14 with Chris Kelly in there. So I don’t know who’s going to play there (if Spezza is out).”

Robitaille, who played a few games on a line with Heatley when both were with the Thrashers, is ready if he gets the call.

“It’s not difficult to play with guys of that calibre,” he said. “They make players around them better. You just try to do the best you can.”

Ray Emery gets his second start of the season in goal Thursday night. Fewer than 1,500 tickets remain for the game.

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