LOS ANGELES – The story is all about Jason Spezza’s lingering groin strain and the Ottawa Senators’ seemingless endless losing streak in these parts.
The Senators may be without Spezza, their captain and number one centre, as they attempt to end their 13-year stretch without a victory in Los Angeles.
Senators coach Paul MacLean was adamant following practice here late Tuesday that the team must make the best long-term decision in dealing with Spezza’s troublesome groin injury and that his status for Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings “could be in doubt.”
Even though Spezza practised Tuesday, MacLean was expected to huddle with Spezza and the club’s training staff Tuesday night and Wednesday morning to decide the best approach.
“To me, it’s starting to become chronic, with the way it happened, ever since it happened in training camp and there’s a setback and there’s (another) setback,” MacLean said. “We need to stop this and we need to nip this in the bud.”
Groin injuries are particularly finicky – countless players return too soon, only to go back on the injury list. The bigger danger, he suggests, is having the problem linger all season long.
“We have to evaluate and make sure we’re not just adding to the problem and have him play (Wednesday) and then not on the weekend (Saturday against the San Jose Sharks and Sunday versus the Anaheim Ducks),” the coach said. “We don’t want Jason Spezza in and out of the lineup for the next 80 games. We want him in the lineup. So if he’s in the lineup for 70 games, that’s way better than if he’s in and out of the lineup for 80. That’s where the evaluation process is for me.”
For his part, Spezza sounded a little more positive about his chances of playing at the Staples Centre, where the Senators haven’t won since posting a 4-3 victory on Jan. 11, 2000. Since then, they’ve posted a record of four losses and a tie in Los Angeles.
“I had a good skate (Tuesday) and felt pretty good,” he said. “It has gradually been improving every day, but we’re just trying to manage it to make sure it doesn’t get worse and really hinder me for a longer period of time.”
Spezza played in only one exhibition game and didn’t have his usual jump when the Senators opened the season with a 1-0 victory over Buffalo Friday and a 5-4 shootout loss to Toronto Saturday. The entire team had a day off Sunday and Spezza didn’t practise on Monday before the team’s six-hour flight to the West Coast.
“It’s not perfect,” he said. “It was hindering my skating a little bit the first couple of games, but I thought I skated a bit better (Tuesday). Can I be better? Definitely.”
If Spezza doesn’t play, Stephane Da Costa will take his spot.
Regardless of who is in the lineup, they’ll be facing a Kings team that is coming off a listless performance in Monday’s 3-1 home-opening loss to the New York Rangers. For lengthy periods, the Kings were bottled up in their own end. The crowning touch on the Kings loss came when star goaltender Jonathan Quick allowed a goal from 165 feet, when the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh scored from his own faceoff circle.
In his previous start, Quick was pulled after allowing three goals in a 5-3 defeat to the Winnipeg Jets.
The Senators are expecting to face a squad which MacLean describes as the most physical team in the Western Conference.
“They’re a big, strong, physical team,” he said. “They play north and south and their goaltender has historically been very good and their team defence has been very good. They don’t give you an awful lot of opportunities.”
MacLean is anxious to clean up some shoddy defensive zone coverage from the opening two games, which he described as “a bit of a dog’s breakfast. We have a plan, but we’re not executing that plan.”
Defenceman Chris Phillips says he has no answers for why the Senators have played so poorly in Los Angles, but he’s also not caught up in the bad numbers.
“It’s one of those stats that obviously doesn’t look favourable on us, but for whatever reason, I’m not sure, we haven’t had any success,” he said. “But that’s what tomorrow is for. To try and change that.”
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