Spezza up to speed
The heat-of-the-battle moment captured on TV showed Paul MacLean waving a sheet of paper while yelling into the ear of his best offensive player.
But never once did Jason Spezza consider telling his coach to shove it.
“It was more of a reminder that he’d like me to shoot the puck a little more than I do at times,” Spezza said Friday, when asked how angry MacLean was with him as the during the one-sided bench conversation as the Senators played catchup with the Rangers during Game 4 of their best-of-seven with the Rangers. “At the time, he (said) he’d like me to hit the net a little more, that I was getting a little fine with my shots. I think he was right.
“I respect his opinion. Sometimes from up top you see things a little bit easier. It’s an easier game from his position sometimes than it is from mine, so it’s good to get a reminder sometimes. That just falls back to our relationship and being comfortable with him, and not having to worry about what he says to me and me not taking too personal, and learning from it.”
Spezza did become a better all-around player, while still finishing fourth in league scoring, during MacLean’s first season behind the Ottawa bench. But he still hasn’t found mesh in the playoffs and — with the first- round playoff series tied at two games apiece while Daniel Alfredsson remains concussed and out of sight — it remains hard to believe they can complete the upset without a goal or two from their top centre.
And to do that, he has to pull the trigger.
Spezza has just nine shots on goal, while sending five wide of the mark. And while the Rangers have done a good job blocking shots, none have come off Spezza’s stick.
By comparison, along with his team-leading 24 shots, Erik Karlsson has had six blocked and 12 more that missed the net.
Spezza has always been more of a playmaker than a shooter, and his numbers would be better if the Senators could get their (2-for-15) power play untracked, but he also only has two assists thus far in the series.
“I’m feeling I’m going pretty good,” said Spezza. “I’m getting lots of chances. It’s a real tight-checking series and I think I’ve been able to have an impact in the games in different ways. At times I felt like I’ve controlled the game, and at times I’ve felt like I could do a little more. But for the most part, I’m playing the way this series is. It’s a hard-working, grinding, be patient series.
“If my role in this series is to draw some attention from them and tire out their guys, play kind of a grinding-style game, I have no problem playing that. If you would have talked to me a few years ago and I had no goals after four games in the playoffs, I’d be pretty rattled. Now, I think I can see the bigger picture, see that we’re tied 2-2 and there’s a great opportunity ahead of us. If I can start to score, it would give us a big boost too, but I feel I’m playing some good hockey without scoring right now.”
MacLean does not disagree.
“It’s hard when you’re the best player ... you’re the focal point of the opposition’s defensive strategies and they make it difficult for you, just like we’re doing for the Rangers,” he said. “It’s just important to keep doing what you do, and keep doing it hard, and stick to it, and eventually we believe we’re going to break through. It hasn’t been in the fourth game, but maybe it’s the fifth game, and we’re guaranteed to play a sixth game and maybe it’s the sixth game Jason ends up breaking through. But you’re never going to break through it if you don’t continue to work at it and do it right. And I think he’s really been conscious of doing things right.”
MacLean says Spezza has the “patience and maturity” to take direction.
“He’s played a certain way for a long time throughout his career, and this year he has embraced some change in his game,” said MacLean. “Sometimes when you’re under the pressure and it gets important, you revert back to where you’re comfortable and what you like doing, and there’s been some instances, mostly in Game 1, where he got back to that player he grew up being, and we have to keep reminding him we need him to do this, but we feel Jason and the whole group are working real hard at the changes we’ve asked them to make.”
Indeed, the Senators belief in MacLean’s system, as well as their respect level for him, is what has brought them this far.
“He’s a great coach. He adapts like we adapt,” said Spezza. “There’s great communication. Me and Mac have a great relationship. He knows when to push the buttons and he knows when to leave you alone. He’s been great for our team. He’s really read the group real well, and made us into a hard working solid, consistent bunch. I think that’s why we’ve had success, because we’re a consistent team and we never give up.”