Sens’ cavalry arrives in the nick of time — in the form of Anderson and Spezza

If there’s a bright side to Craig Anderson’s four-week absence, it’s that he’s had some quality time to rest and recharge the emotional batteries.
That can only be a good thing as the Ottawa Senators prepare for their final seven regular-season games and the playoffs – if, indeed, that’s where they end up.

Sens’ cavalry arrives in the nick of time — in the form of Anderson and Spezza
PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 13: Jason Spezza #19 of the Ottawa Senators handles the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on April 13, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Senators defeated the Penguins 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

MONTREAL – If there’s a bright side to Craig Anderson’s four-week absence, it’s that he’s had some quality time to rest and recharge the emotional batteries.
That can only be a good thing as the Ottawa Senators prepare for their final seven regular-season games and the playoffs – if, indeed, that’s where they end up.
So it was all around good news when the cavalry in the form of Anderson and Jason Spezza arrived on Thursday.
Tonight against the Montreal Canadiens, Anderson will play his first game since slicing the baby finger on his right hand four weeks ago, and Jason Spezza will return after missing Tuesday’s 1-0 loss to the New Jersey Devils with the flu.
The game will be Spezza’s 600th in the NHL.
The Senators can use help.
They’ve scored just five goals in their last five games, are 1-2-2 in those games, and haven’t scored a power-play goal in their last 21 attempts.
They’re still comfortably holding a playoff spot, but collapses have happened in professional sports. Just ask the Boston Red Sox, who crashed out of the playoffs last season with a woeful month of September.
Ben Bishop, who has started the last seven games, will serve as Anderson’s backup tonight, but the team will carry three goalies, meaning Alex Auld will also be around.
Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean would have rather had Anderson for the last month. But the long rest is also a luxury that professional athletes rarely see.
“I agree that in his case it hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing,” said MacLean.
“You wouldn’t necessarily say four weeks is what you want.
“But he’s been practising for the last couple of weeks and I think he has a real hunger to play again and that’s a good thing, that’s a positive thing for our group.”
Anderson was on the ice early on Thursday to work on playing the puck, which had been a concern earlier in the week ( his right hand is his stick hand).
But he said he alleviated those concerns. He felt fine making hard passes as well as plays around the boards.
When he sliced his finger, he really didn’t have an idea of how long he’d be out. He could only guess how long it would take to rebuild the strength and functionality of his finger.
Four weeks has to be regarded as a “best-case scenario,” he said, but from the start he and team staff did everything they could to make sure he’d be back as soon as possible.
“For me it’s just getting back into the flow of things,” said Anderson.
“The guys have been playing really well.
“I just want to get in there and continue to give the team a chance to win, just like our other goaltenders have done. They’ve done a great job.
“I just want to make sure that once I get in there I’m making the saves I’m supposed to be making and doing everything I possibly can to help the team win.”
As the No. 1 goalie, Anderson will play “as many (games) as he can get into,” just as he has all season, said MacLean, but performance, as usual, will be evaluated on a game-by-game basis.
Spezza is back after a trying two weeks that began with the death of close friend Nik Zoricic, who died in a skiing accident on March 10.
On Monday, Spezza served as a pallbearer at Zoricic’s funeral.
Spezza was on the ice for the morning skate on Tuesday but fell ill before the game. He also missed Wednesday’s practice.
As he spoke to the media on Thursday, it was clear he’s still struggling with Zoricic’s death but said there was solace in being a member of the hockey-playing group.
“It’s something that’s not easy,” he said.
“One of my best friends died. But as a hockey player, you just kind of value your time at the rink and look forward to the couple of hours with the boys.”
He was also feeling the speedy passing of his time with the arrival of his 600th game. It only felt like yesterday that it was 2002 and he was arriving for his first NHL game.
“Obviously time goes by quick and 600 games come fast,” he said.
“As a player, the more and more games you play, it obviously feels good. It doesn’t feel that long ago for No. 1.
“It’s nice to get to this point and I hope I have many more.”
With his team’s offense struggling, MacLean was more than a little happy to get Spezza back.
“He’s fifth in the league in scoring,” said MacLean.
“When you’re missing that in your lineup, you’re missing a lot.”

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