Spezza hears criticism, just wants to win

Jason Spezza has heard all the criticisms many times before.

Spezza hears criticism, just wants to win

Jason Spezza has heard all the criticisms many times before.

Fans can be cruel to star players in the midst of a tension-filled playoff series, which is where we are now that the Ottawa Senators and New York Rangers are deadlocked 2-2 in their best-of-seven opening round series. Game 5 is Saturday in New York.

To date, Spezza has no goals and two assists. In order to take the series, the most vocal of Spezza’s critics are crying out for more from the guy who scored 34 goals and 50 assists during the regular season: he’s not skating hard enough, backing away from big hits, making blind passes, stickhandling through traffic, turning the puck over too much and not shooting on net enough.

Wait. That last one isn’t just from the fans. It also comes from his coach.

Before Kyle Turris capped a thrilling Senators comeback in overtime to give the Senators their 3-2 victory on Wednesday, CBC cameras caught MacLean offering a few choice words to Spezza along the players’ bench.

So, what did he say, Jason?

“He said ‘you haven’t had a shot yet and you’ve missed the net seven times’,” Spezza said with a laugh at his own expense. “I said, ‘thanks, Tips.’”

The Rangers have naturally targetted Spezza.

He has seen a steady diet of Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, New York’s top defence tandem, and he also took an unpenalized elbow to the head from Marc Staal late in the second period Wednesday. “I thought he got all head, so I obviously thought it was a bit dirty, but we’re not the ones to make judgement calls on that,” Spezza said of the hit.

Then there’s that left wing shadow named Brandon Prust, who has been attached to Spezza’s hip throughout the series. On top of that, the Rangers have a ridiculous obsession with blocking shots. That count is at 96 after only four games.

Spezza acknowledges that it has “been a dogfight of a series” and that he has been a bit too “fine” with his shot attempts, but he insists he’s not discouraged. MacLean has used a variety of wingers to open up space for him and Milan Michalek, including a stint with Zenon Konopka on right wing.

“They’re checking me pretty tight,” Spezza understated. “Obviously, I want to get on the board and score, but I feel like we carried the play a lot when I was out there (Wednesday). It’s steps in the right direction offensively and it’s little adjustments that you make throughout a series.”

The Senators also moved the puck well on the power play, which was ineffective early in the series, and Sergei Gonchar’s goal, which tied the game 2-2 late in the second period, came with the man advantage.

“That’s part of a seven game series,” he said. “You adapt as a series goes on. I don’t expect to have much room out there. If I can open up room for my linemates, to create goals and scoring opportunities, then space will open up for me. At the end of the day, it’s just about winning the games. My offence will come.”

When asked about the state of Spezza’s game, MacLean deflected it away, saying that, as a rule, all players have to ride the fine line of playing to their strengths, without trying to do too much.

“We’re trying to say the same thing to a lot of guys,” he said. “You can’t get frustrated at this time of year. Frustration is a useless emotion. We have to channel that and stay positive and keep doing what we’re doing. It’s about doing it longer and harder than the opposition. Stick to it and stick to it. That message gets said to everybody.”

MacLean also says there are countless small battles that take place during a lengthy series, because players are typically matched up against the same opposition skaters, game after game. Video can help address a rival player’s tendencies, but ultimately, it comes down to will.

“You’re always playing against the same guy and it’s a matter of you outplaying that guy and it becomes more of an individual game within a game,” MacLean said. “And that brings out the best in people, usually.”

Those words certainly sounded like a challenge from the coach, asking his players to push even harder in order to win the series.

Spezza believes the Senators have put some doubt in the minds of the Rangers players and that the momentum has shifted in their favour, but he expects the intensity will rise yet another notch from both teams.

“We feel like if we can go into their rink and put some pressure on them and get an early lead, (perhaps) they grip their sticks a little tighter,” he said. “But they’re a consistent team. They play 60 minutes. That’s our biggest challenge. To play a 60 minute game with them. They’re the favourites and we’re making it a series and I’m sure they’re not that comfortable with it.”

NO NEWS ON ALFREDSSON

Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, who suffered a concussion when hit by the Rangers’ Carl Hagelin in Game 2 of the series, did make it on to the ice at Scotiabank Place Thursday, but it was only to be part of a team picture.

Alfredsson didn’t skate, but neither did any of his teammates, taking advantage of the extra day off between games to rest up following Wednesday’s thriller.

MacLean says he’s approaching Alfredsson’s health on a day to day basis.

“I’m just going to come in (Friday) and see if here’s here,” he said. “If he’s not, he’s not. If he is, that would be great, but I can’t speculate. It’s just one of these things we have to be patient with and it will happen when it happens.”

If there’s a promising sign, it’s that Alfredsson has been able to work out in the team’s gym.

“He’s feeling better all the time,” said MacLean. “I talked to him really briefly (Thursday) and he was real positive about the game last night and how the team responded.”

NO WORD ON WINCHESTER

The Senators offered no update on the status of Jesse Winchester, who suffered an upper body injury in Wednesday’s game.

SILFVERBERG ON HIS WAY?

Now that top Senators prospect Jakob Silfverberg has accomplished everything possible in the Swedish Elite League – regular season MVP, playoff MVP and a league championship with Brynas – the pressing questions are how soon Ottawa brings him over here and whether he will see any NHL playoff action.

Silfverberg scored 13 playoff goals en route to the league title, breaking the Swedish Elite League post-season record, previously held by someone called Alfredsson.

He was the second youngest player to win regular season MVP honours – only Peter Forsberg was younger – scoring 24 goals and 30 assists in 49 games.

What one factor potentially complicating Silfverberg’s arrival here is the fact Sweden would like him to play in the world championships in May, a tournament which is being jointly hoisted by Sweden and Finland.

Follow Ken Warren on Twitter at @Citizenkwarren

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