OTTAWA – Jason Spezza doesn’t have much time to return to form if the Ottawa Senators want to extend their season.
The star forward hasn’t played since Jan. 27 after undergoing back surgery for a herniated disk. He’ll rejoin Ottawa’s lineup Sunday for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Senators trailing 2-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I’m excited to have a chance to play again,” Spezza said. “I feel ready to play.”
He will immediately add depth to a struggling offense and power play.
“We’re excited about the skill that he brings back to our team and we’re looking forward to it,” said Senators coach Paul MacLean. “We certainly feel that he’s going to give us some help on the power play, for sure. He can help us quite a bit there.”
The Senators’ power play has gone 1 for 7 through the first two games.
Spezza’s minutes will be monitored, and MacLean suggested his time on the ice could vary depending on the number of power plays the Senators get.
Spezza is expected to line up with Milan Michalek and possibly Colin Greening.
“He’s such a skilled playmaker that if you’re on the ice with him you know to keep your stick on the ice because he finds a way to get the puck to you,” Zack Smith said. “When you’re playing with guys like that, you’re just more prone to go to the net and go to those areas and be more confident.”
Spezza hopes his timing comes back quickly.
“Basically I’m just going to go out and work hard and be smart,” he said. “I expect to play well.
“I wouldn’t play unless I felt I could help the team and contribute.”
Spezza had two goals and three assists in just five games during the regular season.
“It’s going to be important to be in his face right away and make sure he doesn’t have time and space,” said Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang. “He’s got good hands, so he can make you look really bad. So if you’re in his face and have a good gap, you have a better chance of having success against him.”
The Senators are undefeated at Scotiabank Place in the playoffs this year.
“We need to play to our identity,” MacLean said. “We have to try and establish our game first. What hurt us in the first two games is not getting off to a (good) start, and we’re down in the first three minutes of both games and catch-up hockey is losing hockey.”
Despite being pulled after allowing three goals in Friday’s game, Craig Anderson will get the start today.
“They’re going to be desperate and we know this is going to be the toughest test yet,” Sidney Crosby said. “We need to start well, but just a play a complete game and give ourselves a chance.”