by SENShobo on 10/28/10 at 10:26 AM ET
The increased challenge of League parity, and notes on Spezza’s and other Senators’ injuries updated, but first. . .
THE STORY: The Senators are looking to string together two wins for the first time this season, and achieving the feat would be a great momentum-builder with Ottawa-killer Tim Thomas and his Boston Bruins in town Saturday night. They’ll have to pull it off without centre Jason Spezza, who is expected to be out of the lineup again with a nagging groin injury.
THE WILDCARD: Brian Elliott. The Panthers will struggle all season to put points on the board, but there’s no questioning the talent in net. If you give Tomas Vokoun the lead, it probably isn’t going anywhere. That’s why Brian Elliott needs to be sharp early and avoid giving up any softies. The Senators are undefeated when they score first this season and winless when they don’t.
Given that every set of eyes acknowledged that the Leafs’ winner Tuesday should not have stood, even Wilson’s, the Panthers won’t have any trouble matching Ottawa’s frustration-fueled motivation.
Motivation aside, the Panthers won’t be as easy as their 3rd overall pick in the draft would suggest. Statistically, in points, goals, and shots, the Panthers lead Ottawa on every side of the equation, but do fall behind on both sides of the special teams coin. Watching Kovalev’s second goal from Tuesday, when he appeared to dig the puck out from Bryzgalov’s glove, one should not expect to get those opportunities from Vokoun, least of all after he watched Orr flip Clemmensen to the ground to clear way for the game winning goal. That, and at 3-9-0 with a .897 Sv% and 3.33 GAA, he has a history against Ottawa he’d surely like to improve.
From the Ottawa Senators, Alfredsson sees no easy games this season,
“More and more in this league, you’re not going to see a team dominate for 60 minutes. We’re in the situation, too, where it’s not like we take 20 minutes off. We’re up 3-0 and we need this win desperately. You become a little bit cautious, you lose a bit of momentum and all of a sudden, you sit back before you even know it,” [said Alfredsson.]
In both conferences already, five playoff teams from last year are on the outside looking in, and surely of them one would not underestimate the potential of Boston, Buffalo, New Jersey, Vancouver, or San Jose to come in and take two points. Philadelphia getting into the post-season on a season-ending shootout win last season only highlights how cut and dry every point can be. Come April, people will look at Toronto and wonder where they might be with a point less, and at Florida with a point or two more. Even as those standings can hardly be predicted just yet, knowing that they will await teams jostling for division titles and the final playoff berths will always be in the back of players’ minds.
Spezza didn’t talk with the media Wednesday, but coach Cory Clouston said the 27-year-old forward had a “good day” during a pre-practice skate alongside injured defenceman Filip Kuba. Saturday’s contest against the Boston Bruins is the new target for Spezza’s return, but the club won’t rush him back until he as at least one full practice first .
“It’s a gradual progression of intensity,” Clouston said of Spezza’s rehabilitation. “Right now, he’s not doing a lot of quick stops and starts, which puts more stress on the hip, back and groin areas, but he’s definitely improving.”
Groin injuries can be difficult to recover from because it’s hard to manufacture the intensity of a game. Players often feel they’re ready to return, underestimating the strain caused by hard pushes to gain acceleration and sharp changes in direction.
“It does nobody any good, especially himself, where he’s out there, starting at 75 per cent in a game and the game ends and he’s at 50 per cent and he’s a scratch for the next night. We need him where he can go out there and be confident in his body and go out there and play and not start each game getting worse and worse and worse.”
The target return change from today to Saturday may or may not stay consistent, but progress continues, and Kuba
continue to skate, and despite the flu Lehner is still expected to dress as Elliott’s backup tonight.
Update - 11:05 A.M. - According to Ian Mendes, Leclaire has not skated in three days, and his recovery has “stagnated.”
Spezza has played just one full NHL season free from injuries, the 2008-09 team wide slump season that sealed Heatley’s decision to leave Ottawa, Spezza’s own worst post-lockout productivity in a season. Any season where he has seen more success, invariably, he has seen more injuries.
The question is whether there is a connection, and if it can be broken. Does Spezza get injured over-exerting himself, trying to make the most out of every shift? Or perhaps he cannot let injuries properly heal when he feels that he is so key to Ottawa’s success during those highs? Clouston wants to ensure it doesn’t become a back and forth at the expense of team success and Spezza’s durability, but how long will that last?
The Spezza-less top line clicked to bring Alfredsson to 1,000 points against Buffalo, and the reworked second line got Kovalev going against Phoenix. So long as Ottawa’s players can put a few pucks in the net, whether their defensive statistics or point totals suffer, Spezza should be able to mend and ease back in. Granted, if Ottawa remains the second lowest scoring team in the League, or drops, he might not be given that chance.
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