Help is on the horizon as Spezza rejoins teammates

Ottawa’s opponent for the next round of the playoffs could be determined as early as Saturday night, when the Pittsburgh Penguins, with a 3-2 lead, try to finish off the New York Islanders.

Help is on the horizon as Spezza rejoins teammates
Jason Spezza #19 of the Ottawa Senators faces off against Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins with teammate Milan Michalek #9 ready for the play on January 27, 2013 at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Ottawa’s opponent for the next round of the playoffs could be determined as early as Saturday night, when the Pittsburgh Penguins, with a 3-2 lead, try to finish off the New York Islanders.

But to Ottawa fans, that’s not nearly important as this question: Will Jason Spezza return for the second round?

According to general manager Bryan Murray, there’s a good chance he will.

Out since he had back surgery on Feb. 1, Spezza has entered the next stage of his rehabilitation, skating on Thursday and Friday with the reserve players, or Black Aces, Murray said Friday.

The next step is rejoining the team for a full practice. That decision, Murray suggested, will be made this weekend.

With the team off on Friday and Saturday, it’s not inconceivable that Spezza could be on the ice with the team on Sunday.

“He’s skating much harder, competing much better, and feeling much stronger,” said Murray.

“Where he is as far as game-ready, I’m not sure.

“I think that over the weekend, probably, he’ll continue to work hard and we’ll see then.

“It’ll then be up to Jason and (coach) Paul (MacLean) to decide if he’s going to practise with the team or take a little longer.

“But there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

Certainly the schedule is working in Spezza’s favour.

Depending on how long the other first-round series go, the Senators might not play their next game until Wednesday or Thursday.

That gives Spezza several more days to get ready.

When Erik Karlsson was preparing to return from the injury to his left Achilles earlier this season, he first had about a week of rigorous sessions with skating coach Marc Power.

MacLean and Murray were similarly guarded about Karlsson’s progress and wouldn’t let him rejoin the team until he was ready to play.

But when he did rejoin the team, Karlsson only needed a handful of practices for MacLean to decide he was OK.

Murray said there’s a chance Spezza could rejoin the team before he’s declared 100 per cent ready just to get some practice time with his teammates.

“As I said with Erik (Karlsson) when he came out, ‘let’s get him on the ice and have a little fun with the guys and not be skating by yourself in an isolation ward type of thing,’” said Murray. “It makes you feel important. It makes the players look at him and be optimistic that there’s another addition that could happen at some point.

“I think he’s like the other players who were out for a period of time.

“It takes a bit of getting on the ice with the group, getting involved in the group, working hard with them, and hopefully making himself available at some point for the coach to decide if it’s time or not.

“I don’t pretend to know what that timetable would be.”

Because Spezza hasn’t played since the end of January, said Murray, a lot of questions will have to be answered first.

Is he fit to compete against players who have played full seasons and a round in the playoffs? Can he win battles for the puck? Can he contribute to the team?

One area where he will almost certainly have an immediate impact is on the power play, which has struggled in his absence. Murray suggested the answer to that question would be the tipping point.

“That in itself would be a reason to really consider when he could come back to the lineup,” he said. “That would make the difference.”

So Murray’s keeping his fingers crossed.

“I’d like to see Jason on the ice, for sure,” he said. “He’s a good player, he’s an important player for us. But he hasn’t played all year.

“It’s a big step to get thrown into a series when everybody’s been playing for a long time.

“I hope to see him, at some point in Round 2.

Whether that will happen or not, I can’t answer.”

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