Spezza, Michalek and Ryan look to deliver on Pizza Line comparisons

Bobby Ryan is embracing all the hype and expectations that have been built up about the possibility of the Ottawa Senators once again owning one of the NHL’s best lines.

Spezza, Michalek and Ryan look to deliver on Pizza Line comparisons
Milan Michalek, Bobby Ryan and Jason Spezza. Ottawa Senators practice at the Bell Sensplex. (Chris Mikula / Ottawa Citizen)

Bobby Ryan is embracing all the hype and expectations that have been built up about the possibility of the Ottawa Senators once again owning one of the NHL’s best lines.

From the increased ice time to the additional on-ice pressure to the bigger media demands, Ryan is anxious to showcase what he can do playing alongside Senators captain Jason Spezza and left winger Milan Michalek. He wants the responsibility that didn’t necessarily come to him while playing with the Anaheim Ducks, behind a cast that included Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Teemu Selanne and others.

“That’s the whole reason I was brought in,” says the talkative, engaging Ryan, who came to the Senators in the summer trade that sent Jakob Silfverberg, prospect Stefan Noesen and a first-round draft choice to Anaheim. “It’s not that I was stuck there (in Anaheim). I got opportunities. But I was hemmed in. This is a chance to come in and be one of the guys. It’s nice to be held accountable every day.”

Ryan is a proven scorer at age 26, having already topped 30 goals four times in his career. Yet if Spezza, one of the NHL’s best playmakers, and Michalek, one of the league’s fastest left wingers, can stay healthy — big ifs, to be sure — the unit could post some scary numbers.

It has the makings of the best Senators trio since the Pizza Line days of the Dany Heatley-Spezza-Daniel Alfredsson trio, which carried the club all the way to the Stanley Cup final in 2007 (against the pre-Ryan Ducks). The trio put up a combined 279 points that season before finishing in a three-way tie for the playoff scoring lead.

Ryan isn’t afraid to talk about it, claiming that if the Senators can hit at least 20-22 per cent on the power play, the sky’s the limit.

“You would like to think so,” he said. “The potential is absolutely there. (Michalek) and I got quite a few games in together. Whether it’s pre-season or not, that’s important. You just have to learn where guys like to be and how they like to approach it. I’ve certainly got a pretty good read on both of them and the plays that we’re making are starting to work a little more because we’re in the right areas.”

In a perfect world, Spezza would have played more in the exhibition schedule, and there’s justifiable concern about how his back, groin and knees will respond to the grind, which begins with back-to-back games against Buffalo and Toronto.

The good news for Senators fans on the injury front is that Michalek’s wonky knee has so far held up following the unconventional, non-surgical procedure he underwent in Germany during the summer. For all the excitement about Ryan, fans shouldn’t forget that a healthy Michalek scored 36 goals playing alongside Spezza in 2011-12.

“(The knee) feels pretty good, 100 per cent,” said Michalek. “Hopefully, if feels like that during the regular season.”

Michalek, who played countless games against Ryan when he was with the San Jose Sharks, says Ryan is much more than a goal scorer.

“He’s special. He’s got the great hands and a really good shot, a really good release and he’s a smart player, so I’m sure it’s going to be a lot of fun playing with him,” he said. “He’s making great plays, too. He sees the ice well, too. He’s a great playmaker, as well as a scorer.”

Like Ryan, Michalek is aiming high, wanting the line to be recognized as one of the NHL’s best.

“We have the expectations to be that, so we definitely want to try.”

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