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Spezza's ready to roll

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
The wait is almost over for Jason Spezza.

But whether the Ottawa Senators centre will still find himself in familiar company when he makes his much-anticipated return to the lineup remains to be seen.

Spezza has missed the past six Sens games with a groin injury, but he’s all but certain that stretch of inactivity will end Thursday, when the Buffalo Sabres arrive at Scotiabank Place for the teams’ first meeting since the Eastern Conference final back in May (7:30 p.m., A-Channel, Team 1200).

Dany Heatley (left) might not line up alongside Jason Spezza when the latter makes his expected return to the Senators lineup Thursday night.
“(The groin) felt better today than yesterday,” Spezza said after the Senators worked out Tuesday at Scotiabank Place. “All is pointing in the right direction.

“If the game was tonight, I’d play. We’ll see what happens tomorrow, but it looks like I’ll be in the lineup Thursday.”

Head coach John Paddock is counting on the same, and plans to give Spezza “about 15-18 minutes” of ice time against the Sabres. Not exactly No. 1 line stuff, but Paddock also hinted he might break up his top combination of Spezza, Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson.

“Periodically, I’m going to split them up, regardless of who we’re playing,” said Paddock. “Just to get a little kickstart mentally, because you get used to playing with somebody and you get used to playing the same situation and just waiting for opportunities.

“It’s not a bad thing the way they play together. I don’t mean that at all. I just think there’s an advantage to them playing with somebody else … That’s why we do it sometimes, just to keep sharp mentally. It’s something I’m going to consider.”

Mike Fisher, who’s filled the centre spot on the No. 1 line in Spezza’s absence, continued to skate with Heatley and Alfredsson in practice Tuesday. Paddock said Monday he’s been pleased with the intensity level Fisher and Alfredsson bring as a unit.

Spezza is ready for whatever transpires Thursday.

“I talked to John about not putting me on the (top) line (Tuesday), just in case I had to leave practice,” said Spezza. “If he keeps them together, I’ve got no problem with that and if he doesn’t, I’m sure I’ll talk to John about it tomorrow.”

The only hiccup in what would have been an otherwise healthy group Tuesday came early in practice, when Brian McGrattan departed with a case of back spasms. The big winger isn’t expecting it to be a long-term concern.

“It should be better for tomorrow,” said McGrattan. “Hopefully, it’s just a day thing.”

Paddock noted that goaltender Ray Emery, whose practice time Monday was shortened by the same problem, looked more like his usual self a day later.

“I thought he was better,” Paddock said of Emery. “He said he’s feeling a lot better.”

But Paddock indicated the setback, as minor as it appears to have been, will likely lead him to start Martin Gerber against the Sabres. It would be the fifth start in six games for the Swiss goaltender, who owns a league-high 11 wins to go with a stellar 1.73 goals-against average and .943 save percentage.

Less than 1,500 tickets remain for Thursday’s game.

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