Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Alanah McGinley on 02/11/08 at 08:40 PM ET
Earlier today Jason Spezza was named “First Star” for the week, after recording 11 points in three games, including a career-high six points against Montreal this past Saturday night. Jason is second on the Senators and fifth in overall National Hockey League scoring with 71 points on 23 goals and 48 assists.
Q. Jason, you guys, you and Alfredsson and Heatley back together again, obviously in that 6-1 win over Montreal, what was the feel that you three had? There was talk of possible rust. What was the feel that you guys had right away in that game?
JASON SPEZZA: Yeah, we had pretty good chemistry together, and we practiced the day before and practiced that morning together. You know, it’s a pretty natural fit for us. We’ve played together now for a couple years, so there’s not too much getting used to each other again. You put us in with same line mates, we read off each other pretty good. I think more than anything I was fired up because it was a big game, Alfie was fired up because he was coming back, and Heater was pretty excited because he just came back the night before, so it was pretty good circumstances for us to play well.
Q. When you guys are playing together, when you’re all healthy and playing together, how much of an intimidation factor do you think there is nor other teams to try to match up with that?
JASON SPEZZA: I’m not sure. You’d probably have to ask them more than you’d have to ask us that. We just try to—our biggest thing is we always talk about skating. We try to make sure we’re skating real well and we’re hounding the puck and we’re moving as much as we can because we feel like when we do that as a trio, that makes us real tough to stop when we’re coming at guys and making them make decisions fast. That’s kind of the foundation of our game, I guess, when we play together.
Q. I wanted to ask you also, Ray Emery had a very good game in that one, as well. Is that a game where potentially that’s a turning-the-corner type of game for him for this season?
JASON SPEZZA: Yeah. I think Ray has had a couple or three good weeks of practice. You can see his game coming along. It’s not one of those things where you can just decide you’re going to start playing better and you’re going to play better. I think it took him a few weeks of work and getting back to good habits.
I think hopefully Saturday’s game can become a turning-point game for him, and really just a confidence game because he looked real confident. I think by us getting a few early goals it gave him a chance to settle down, and he looked like he was moving really well. So we definitely welcome him playing the way he did.
Q. And back to you guys playing together, obviously injuries, they play a major part. Even though you do have chemistry together, was there any concern that because Heatley was out for so long, because Alfie was out for a couple games that—maybe it didn’t happen, but you could struggle with getting that chemistry back right away? Was there any concern there?
JASON SPEZZA: I don’t think so, to be honest. We know each other’s games so well. We have a few things that we do quite regularly to help us kind of stay in sync, and all three of us communicate real well. Alfie jumps around and plays a different—he plays with fish sometimes and he plays—but me and Heater, there’s always constant dialogue, we’re always talking about different things to try.
Just having that comfort level of knowing you’ve got the same guys with you all the time I think helps. When they’re out they’re still watching the games and trying to figure out what to do, so we’ve got a pretty good fit.
Q. Just to follow up on one of the previous questions, how confident are the skaters with your two goaltenders? I mean, so much has been written and talked about in the media. How confident are you guys that you have the two goaltenders that can lead you all the way?
JASON SPEZZA: We feel like when those two guys are playing well we’re in a pretty good spot because we’ve got two capable No. 1 guys. I think when the team struggled a little bit, the goaltenders struggled a bit, and that’s going to happen at different times of the year. But we’ve gone to the Finals with those two guys now. And we know if Ray struggles or gets hurt, Marty can come in; and if Marty struggles or gets hurt, then Ray can come in. We feel like we’ve got depth at our goaltending position. Where some teams have got depth at other positions, ours has been goaltending right now, so we’re pretty confident.
Q. And then just touching on the media, per capita, given the size of your city there’s almost sometimes more hype than even Toronto. Now they’re reporting even on non-trades, things that don’t happen. So we’re heading towards that time, you’ve been there long enough, where for your team the trades really at the deadline haven’t really panned out all that well. How do you with this as a team, just trying to stay focused, and also in your estimation if you have all the pieces or if you think you need some help.
JASON SPEZZA: This time of year is always a tricky time of year to make sure everybody stays focused on just winning games because there’s a lot of trades—especially when you play in a Canadian city. There’s trade rumors every day and guys feel—especially when you’re losing games, everybody kind of lives and dies by wins and losses. If you lose a few games then sometimes guys’ names get mentioned in trade rumors. As a player, it’s a tough time of the year to make sure you stay focused.
We feel like we’ve got a pretty good group of guys. They may tweak the team a little bit, and that’s up to the general manager, but aside from that we feel like we’ve got a pretty good team and we have a pretty good idea of what our team is going to look like after the deadline and we feel like we can win with this team.
Q. I just wanted to ask you one more. How important—there was a time where you guys were struggling and there were injuries and the roof could have been caving in with the goaltending situation and everything. How important was it just to stay afloat at that time? Do you sense it now where you have the ability here to pull away a little bit more now?
JASON SPEZZA: Yeah, we played .500 hockey when we went through a lot of injury problems and a lot of key guys missed it, missed some games. It was looked at as such a negative thing. And sometimes that’s a good sign because you know that some teams are satisfied with winning two, losing one, winning two, losing one, and we’re not that type of team.
And now that we have a full lineup and we’re still missing Pat Eaves and a couple other guys that are depth guys for us, and we feel like once everybody gets rolling and firing, we should be going as a good team and on a good pace going into the playoffs, and we feel like we can make a splash.
Q. You kind of touched on this briefly. Out here in Vancouver whenever the Canucks lose one or two games, there’s kind of full-scale panic in the media and amongst fans and stuff. Is that the same in Ottawa, and as a player do you kind of soak it up or do you tune it out?
JASON SPEZZA: Well, I think you get used to it more than anything. Maybe guys coming from west coast teams or something like that, it’s a bit of a shock that you lose two games and the city is in panic. But I’d rather play in a place where people live and die by every game and watch the games and enjoy it, and it’s a topic of conversation at everybody’s lunchtime.
I really enjoy the pressure, and I think the guys on our team enjoy it. We have high expectations for ourselves, and sometimes it’s hard to meet up with those expectations, but it’s better to have expectations like that than to just be a mediocre team and have people satisfied with playing .500 hockey.
Q. Secondary scoring has been an issue sometimes for your team. Has the thought crossed your mind that—obviously you don’t want injuries to your stars, but maybe in the long run with Heatley and Alfredsson, just given last year when you reached the final, the three of you were so keyed upon that it could be a positive just getting that energy back for the stretch drive?
JASON SPEZZA: Yeah, I think sometimes injuries can become a blessing in disguise. It’s not that we were keyed upon in the finals, we were keyed upon in every series, and as a line we just didn’t play as well in the finals. We want to take almost more on our shoulders than what the other team did to us.
You know, we feel that we have good depth scoring, our depth guys score when they have to score, and most nights it’s just expected for us to lead the team offensively. We feel like if the other guys can play even or +1 or better against the other three lines that we should win most games. We don’t feel like it’s a problem for us.
Q. I’m doing a story about tie games. Obviously every game is decided, but how do you go after a team in the late stages of a tie game in regulation? What’s sort of the game plan there?
JASON SPEZZA: We’re a team that doesn’t like to sit back and wait for the overtime. We haven’t had a great shootout record so we try to end it before we get to the shootout. We just continue to keep pressing and try to make late surges on teams. A lot of teams sit back now because they want the point and they’re fighting for playoff spots and stuff, but we’re a team that—we’re fortunate, we’re at the top of the standings and we feel like we can take the two points and leave a team without a point and it’ll put us in a better spot. So we’re a pretty aggressive team, I guess, when it comes to ending games if it’s a tie game.
Q. Does it make a big difference, Eastern Conference, Western Conference?
JASON SPEZZA: I don’t know, I can’t say. We haven’t had too many tight games. Maybe in the Eastern Conference when two Eastern teams play against each other, the one team doesn’t want to give up the free point, or maybe everybody wants to make sure they get a point against the West team and you might go for it a little bit more. I don’t know, it doesn’t affect you too much as a player. When you’re playing the game, it’s that night; you treat it like it’s just one night and one game. You don’t treat it so much as Eastern and Western Conference.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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