Amodeo: Spezza still an integral part of Senators’ nucleus

(Kaatiya/Flickr)

One of the biggest surprises in the 2011-12 season has been the emergence of the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference.

Although recently the Sens have struggled, going 3-4-2 in the month of March, what the Sens have accomplished this season is exceeding pre-season expectations.

Armed with a new head coach in Paul MacLean, many experts predicted the Senators to finish in the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings this season. However, the Senators have greatly improved under MacLean’s leadership, and currently sit seventh in the Eastern Conference, with a little bit of breathing room.

There are several positives that have led to the Senators rise this season; MacLean’s leadership as the Head Coach, the Norris quality year out of Erik Karlsson, the break out of Milan Michalek who is having a career year posting 32 goals, 20 assists and a plus-3, and the play of aging but still effective captain Daniel Alfredsson. However, what gets lost is the re-emergence of Senators assistant captain and top centre, Jason Spezza.

Over the past few seasons, Spezza’s offensive production has decreased. After posting a career best 92 points in 2007-08, Spezza’s point totals have decreased significantly each year; 73 points in 2008-09 and 57 points in the injury shortened 2009-10 and 10-11 seasons.

This season however, Spezza has been able to remain healthy, playing in 73 straight games for the Senators, only to miss Tuesday night’s game due to illness. Not only has his ability to stay healthy improved, but so has his statistics.

Going into Friday night, when the Senators visit Montreal in a game that the Sens must win in order to remain in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, Spezza has 29 goals, 46 assists for 75 points. His plus-9 is another wonderful stat, considering not too long ago, 2008-09 to be exact, he was a minus-14.

Along with remaining healthy, the key for Spezza’s game has been his ability to play in all three zones of the ice. Watching the Senators play a lot this season, there have been several times where Spezza’s defence play has been simply amazing to watch. The key has been using his 6’3” 216-pound frame to his advantage, and staying hard on his man in the defensive zone.

Offensively, Spezza is having his best season since his 92 point season in 2007-08. His 10 goals and 13 assists on the powerplay have helped the Sens improve their special teams performance this season (currently sitting 12th overall in that department). Along with producing, he has been part of the reason for the emergence of Michalek, who is breaking out offensively this season. Spezza, a pass first centre, has proven to be a large part of Michalek’s success this season.

Once Spezza’s illness vanishes, and he is able to return to the Sens lineup, the Senators will continue to have one of the best centers in the NHL. This season is the type of season that Senators brass and fans have been hoping to get from Spezza since his breakout season in 2007-08.

Spezza, the second overall pick in 2001, is the key for the Ottawa Senators to make the playoffs this year and to continue having success in years to come. If Spezza can stay healthy and continue to play as he has in the 2011-12 season, there could be many bright years are ahead for the Ottawa Senators.

– Danny Amodeo, Contributing Writer

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