Senators notebook: Spezza feels the cold, Bishop finds old friends

We’ve all been forced to endure the ugly numbers of the winter season — minus 20′s, minus 30′s – desperately hoping for warmer days ahead.

Senators notebook: Spezza feels the cold, Bishop finds old friends
Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning makes a save against Jason Spezza #19 of the Ottawa Senators during a shootout at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on January 23, 2014 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)

We’ve all been forced to endure the ugly numbers of the winter season, -20 C, -30 C, desperately hoping for warmer days ahead.

Jason Spezza feels your pain.

As much as the Ottawa Senators captain tries not to look too hard at the stats sheet, he acknowledges it’s impossible to ignore the frigid plus/minus figure beside his name – a glaring minus-20 — before Thursday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

There’s only a short list of other players with colder numbers – Edmonton’s Nail Yakupov (minus-29), Buffalo’s Mike Weber (minus-28), Steve Ott (minus-22) and Tyler Myers (minus-22), along with Senators teammate Milan Michalek (minus-22) – and Spezza can’t skate away from the bad digits.

“There have been only one or two seasons where I have been a minus player, but the stats kind of creep up on you a little bit and it seems like when you’re paying attention to them, it feels harder to get a plus, I guess,” he said before Thursday’s game against Tampa.

“It’s disappointing. It’s almost like you have to ignore it and park it and start from scratch. Kind of try to hit the reset button a little bit for myself mentally, so you’re not constantly staring at the same thing and not judging how you’re playing, ” he explained. “I think I’ve played better hockey the last 10 games. Its important to look at your game in small pictures, not in the whole big picture all the time.”

In Tuesday’s 3-2 win over Columbus, Spezza finished on the plus side of the ledger for the first time since Dec. 23. When Spezza has produced offence, it has primarily come on the power play, where a player is not credited for a plus. His last even-strength goal came way back on Nov. 24.

Spezza knows he has to find a way to create more offence in five-on-five situations.

“I had three or four bad weeks of hockey where I didn’t do much, where I didn’t play very well and was probably a little lost in how I was trying to play,” said Spezza. “But I think in the last 10 games, I’ve been playing a little better.”

For the record, Spezza has finished on the negative side three times during his career – in 2002-03 (minus-three), 2008-09 (minus-14) and in 2010-11 (minus-seven).

FEEDING THE ENEMY

Spezza is one of many Senators who have maintained a strong friendship with Ben Bishop, saying “he’s a pretty normal guy, for a goalie.” Zack Smith was in the group that had dinner with Bishop Wednesday. Smith says he resisted the temptation to poison Bishop’s dinner.

“He has played well against us, I should have thought about that,” he said.

Bishop, meanwhile, says cooking and eating together was part of the ritual when he was with the Senators. “It was like the good old days, nothing has changed,” he said.

LIGHTNING ROOKIES STRIKE

Bishop and Lightning captain Marty St. Louis deserve plenty of credit for helping Tampa survive the loss of Steven Stamkos, but don’t underestimate the value of the rookie brigade. Tampa has dressed nine rookies this season and eight of them have played at least 30 games. Most of the youngsters played for current Tampa coach Jon Cooper when they were in the minors together.

“It helps having Coop up here, we’ve had him in the AHL for the last two years, too,” said Tyler Johnson, who had 16 goals and 18 assists before Thursday’s game, one point behind Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon in the rookie scoring race. “We’re familiar with the system. We’re familiar with him. We know what he expects out of us. That obviously makes things a lot easier for us in our transition to the NHL game. It’s nice to have so many familiar faces who are going through the same things day in, day out with each other.”

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