Kukla's Korner


Is This Spezza’s Time?

A Spezza non-injury updated, the new style for Ottawa’s defence, a season of milestones, Fisher at personal and professional best, another opportunity for Cowen’s WHL growth, and dispelling a Lehner rumour, but first. . .

From the Ottawa Citizen, on Spezza’s peaking performance,

At 27 and entering his ninth year as a professional, Jason Spezza is at the midpoint of his career. It’s hasn’t been a bad one so far, if you base that assessment on the number of points he’s accumulated.
There are indications, however, that this might be Spezza’s much-awaited breakout season. He appears to be in better shape than ever. During the summer, he changed his training to emphasize work that would strengthen his back, which has long bothered him. He also looks noticeably bigger, especially in the upper body. Better yet, in four pre-season games, he had four goals and four assists.
Coach Cory Clouston has also been impressed. Spezza was a leader on and off the ice during training camp, he says, staying after practice to work on different parts of his game, such as faceoffs. His work ethic has rubbed off on the younger players, exactly what the coaching staff wants.

“When you’re in my position, you can see both sides,” says Clouston of the booing. “I think Jason has handled it exactly the way he needs to handle it. He’s basically used adversity to try to become a better player and a better person.”

Things are definitely taking a turn towards the ascent of Spezza, subtle as they may be.

In his early days, Spezza was shielded by the likes of Hossa and Havlat, and later Alfredsson and Heatley; all talented players from whom more offensive output was expected, deflecting attention away from Spezza. On the back end, guys like Redden, Chara, Corvo, Meszaros, Phillips, and Volchenkov have represented good expectations of both point production, and an ability to keep the play in check should Spezza be chasing the puck rather than leading with it. In net, much stock had been put in goalies like Hasek, Emery, and Gerber, with hopes of high returns on the investments and an ability to steal games and take the team to the promised land, even as they each left many expectations unfulfilled.

Today’s team sees lower expectations from those goalies. Gone are the big bodies of Chara and Volchenkov (and Meszaros, if press in Philly are to be believed) to be a safety net. Only Alfredsson remains as a player who has topped Spezza’s output in Ottawa, with reduced expectations for Kovalev, Michalek, and Fisher. Even the newer faces on defence, in Gonchar, Karlsson, Campoli, and eventually Wiercioch and Rundblad, point to offense as the aim, with Spezza the flag bearer.

At this stage, Spezza has felt the highs of personal numerical achievement, and getting to the Cup Finals, and the lows of bowing out in those finals, of missing the playoffs, of feeling almost rejected by his town. The team is taking shape around him, and even without Crosby or Ovechkin class skills, the moves still serve to complement Spezza as much as raise his game.

Is a breakout imminent? I don’t know. But every piece and move to get him there has been made. Now it’s his turn.

Speaking of Spezza, the Ottawa Sun has word that Spezza left practice yesterday with an unknown tweak, possibly his back, but is expected at practice today and in the opener come Friday.

Update - 10:37 AM - According to Ian Mendes, Spezza was not on the ice this morning, with practice lines switched to Foligno-Fisher-Alfredsson and Michalek-Regin-Kovalev, and I would expect Shannon on the fourth line. We’ll see if it is precautionary, or if the start to Spezza’s season will be lacking bang.

Update - 11:41 AM - Mendes also says that Spezza will be a game time decision, and that Clouston does not expect it to be long term issue.

From the Ottawa Citizen, on the different pairings and approach for Ottawa’s defence,

“When you play with a guy a long time, for the most part you know what he’s going to do and where he’s going to be,” Phillips says. “And now we have to let each other know because we haven’t played with each other as much.”

Head coach Cory Clouston believes that, with the “level of intelligence” involved with Phillips and Karlsson, “they should be able to read off each other,” and he likes the complement of Phillips’ defensive game with Karlsson’s ability to rush and move the puck.
“We got a taste of it in training camp, a feel for how guys play,” Phillips says of the new pairings. “It’s about communication and talking your way through it. What you like to do in certain situations and seeing what the other guy does ... and feeding off of that. It’s a bit of a learning curve, but not drastic and not something you’re going to use as a crutch.

As to losing his “shutdown pair” with Volchenkov gone, Clouston, now starting his second full season on the job, says he was never a proponent of the concept, preferring to have two pairs capable of playing against the other team’s top lines. That should take shape when Kuba returns, and Phillips, Karlsson, Gonchar and Kuba likely get top-four minutes.

The expected pairings on Friday would give Clouston a slightly different mix, comprised of Karlsson-Phillips, Gonchar-Campoli, and Carkner-Lee, which would aim to see the top two pairings “shut down” the Sabres by mobilizing the Senators. While the pairings that feature Kuba give Clouston two solid pairings, his injury may be even more of an audition for Campoli.

Campoli went an impressive 2-6—8 in 5GP during the pre-season, for all that such games matter, and will start alongside Gonchar. If any chemistry develops, could it be possible to see that pairing remain, Kuba work with Karlsson, and Phillips spend time with Carkner? In years passed, blame was laid on coaches for utilizing the Spezza-Heatley-Alfredsson line too much; could the team benefit from a more even minute distribution on the back end, if it proves possible? That said, it’s in Campoli’s hands to show that he can handle pressure.

From the Ottawa Sun (and OC), on Alfredsson’s (992) and Kovalev’s (990) pursuit of 1,000 points,

Between Alfredsson and Kovalev, there will be no wagering on the race to become the 75th player in NHL history to reach the 1,000-point plateau — which should be decided in this season’s first month.
“Like I mentioned before, when I came to this team, I don’t compete against our own guys,” he said. “I’m not going to compete with who gets there first, but I was kind of thinking the other day that it would be nice if we get 2-on-1 (goal), and both get (1,000 points) at the same time.”
As he enters his 15th season, Alfredsson, who has played 1,002 games, has averaged a point every .990 outings. He picked up an assist in his very first game, against Buffalo Oct. 7, 1995, and scored his first goal six days later against Florida’s Mark Fitzpatrick.

“It’s not something that when I started, it was a milestone I had in mind, like, I wish I’d do that,” Alfredsson said of 1,000 points. “I never thought I’d play 1,000 games, or even close to that, so everything that comes along now is just a bonus.”

While players from all over the roster (Gonchar, Phillips, Spezza, Fisher, Neil, Elliott, Michalek, Ruutu, Kuba, Campoli, Kelly, Foligno) approach milestones, having Ottawa’s first 1,000 point scorer goes a long way with the franchise and its fans, another testament to Alfredsson’s legacy.

It would be great to see Alfredsson get on top of the point-per-game pace (contrary to the Sun, whose numbers would either credit Alfredsson to 1012 points or shortchange him to 982 games, it is .990 points per outing that Alfredsson has over his career, and a point every 1.010 games), but the numbers and the man will always be revered by the fans.

From the Ottawa Sun, on Fisher’s optimism for personal performance,

Fisher proved he’s more than the third-line checking centre many had pegged him as by lighting the lamp 25 times.

“Junior?” Fisher said, when asked the last time he led his team in goals. “No, I don’t even know if I did in junior. Bantam. It’s been a while.”
“It was a good season, but if you look at my seasons, the difference last year was power-play goals,” he said. “I had 10 last year, the year before I had zero. That’s a big difference. I want to continue. I feel I improved last year, for sure. When you’re scoring those goals, you’re getting confidence and making better plays in other areas too.”

Fisher has naturally changed his approach since he was a teenager trying to crack a Senators roster that included Alexei Yashin, Shawn McEachern, Andreas Dackell, Marian Hossa and Radek Bonk. In fact, he’s changed it since he was 28.

“For me, it not about just going balls out every shift,” he said. “It’s about being smart, and trying to think the game a little better than I have in the past. Just make plays. I think I did a better job of that last year.”

Fisher could benefit from the way things have settled for him, marrying Carrie Underwood, and nailing down the second line center position. Rather than battling to find a spot at center or on the wing, it is now he who gets Kovalev on his right side, and whose left wing youngsters like Foligno and Regin are auditioning for. Ten power play goals, almost a third of his career total (32) in just 79 games of his 620 game career, could signify a greater confidence and sense of purpose offensively. Either way, it definitely piques the curiosity.

From the Ottawa Citizen, on a touching gesture by Fisher,

A hockey-loving, 15-year-old New Jersey boy had his favourite player: the Ottawa Senators’ Mike Fisher — because his name was Mike Fisher, too.

“When Mike married Carrie Underwood, he used to go around telling everybody, ‘Yeah, I’m married to Carrie Underwood,’” recalled his stepfather, Daniel Nees.

And so when the young man collapsed and died suddenly during a roller-hockey practice in his hometown of Dennisville, his heartbroken family sought out a fitting final gift to display at his funeral — an autographed photo from his name-sharing idol.
When Nees, his wife and Fisher’s six-year-old brother came home from the funeral Friday afternoon, there was a package on their doorstep.

“I was impressed, because he said he didn’t think he could get it in time,” Nees said. “The fact that he could pull it off and get it to us, I was really touched by that.”

The photo — an action shot of the NHL’s Mike Fisher — is signed “From one Fish to another. Many blessings.”

A touching act, showing the character that no doubt drew in Carrie Underwood, and one befitting the man who will wear an ‘A’ this season along with Phillips.

From the Spokane Chiefs, on Cowen’s renewed leadership,

With Jared Cowen returning to the line-up the Spokane Chiefs have reissued the captain’s ‘C’ back to the 19-year-old defenseman.  Tyler Johnson, who was named captain of the team last week, will be an alternate captain along with 20-year-old Levko Koper.

“Jared was our captain last year but with him in the NHL at the start of our season we needed a leader from the get-go,” Chiefs Head Coach Don Nachbaur said. ” Tyler is a great leader in his own right and shows great character by stepping aside for Jared.  It was always our expectation that if Jared returned he would remain the captain.”

Along with increased ice time, a chance to play in all situations, and to work on his less-polished blue-line-forward skills, just another reason to expect good development from Cowen, even at the WHL level for another season.

From the Ottawa Citizen, on Lehner’s appearance in Ottawa,

For a few moments Wednesday, the presence of goaltender Robin Lehner at Ottawa Senators practice caused rampant speculation.

Lehner, after all, had been assigned to Binghamton of the American Hockey League on Saturday.

Had the Senators recalled the 19-year-old Lehner, the best of all the goaltenders in training camp, to start ahead of Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott in Friday’s season opener against the Buffalo Sabres?

Ahhh ... no. Lehner, as it turned out, had visa issues and had remained in Ottawa while waiting for his paperwork to be put in order so he could cross into the United States.

Just to put a rest to the rumours. Now if only that Friday game against Buffalo were already here.

Filed in: NHL News, NHL Teams, Ottawa Senators, | SENShobo | Permalink


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About SENShobo

Native of Northern California.  Hockey fan since 1998... sort of... there's a hiatus in there that I still can't explain.

I want to know about anything and everything related to the sport and the spectacle.  I watch, I react, I write it down.

My interest in the Sharks was initially a matter of geographic convenience and regional loyalty because that seemed to be how it worked.  I had no prior interest (at all-- AT ALL) in professional sports of any kind.  When I met hockey, it might have set off a chain reaction of general sports fandom.  It hasn't, I don't think it will.  At all.

Since then, that interest developed into full blown (mostly sort of usually almost completely) exclusive loyalty to the Sharks.

I started blogging a couple years ago on wordpress. I still occasionally put things there that I don't think fit here because they are not about the Sharks. Wherever my words wander, here on Kuklas Korner, they will (usually) hang on to a teal thread.

I can be found in cyberspace on Twitter @petshark47, or emailed at talkingstick@petshark.net