Five Thoughts for Friday

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

Things are a lot better when the Sens take five out of a possible six points in a week.

1. Jason Spezza had a pretty good week. In his past two games, he's had a nice goal and four beautiful assists. He spurred the comeback against the Blues and set-up Milan Michalek to secure the victory last night against Buffalo. In his last six games he has nine points (2G, 7A) and four multi-point nights. It's one of his best stretches of the season, but his underlying possession numbers are still cause for some concern. Three times during that span his CF % was 50 or greater (against Tampa, Toronto, and Buffalo) and in the other three games (against tough opponents) it's been below 45%. At this point, I think a lot of Sens fans are willing to overlook any possession issues if it means Spezza has returned to game-breaker form.

2. Speaking of Spezza, there's been lots of talk about the Sens leadership this past week. First Craig Anderson placed the blame on his teammates for the Leafs second goal on Saturday night. That night, Andy wasn't bad, but he wasn't stellar either and let in five goals on the night. Two nights later, Spezza mentioned a poor line change by Colin Greening as a decision that helped lead to James Neal's game-winning goal. On the play, Spezza turned over the puck along the boards and was casual in his defensive coverage. Both were criticized by fans for not taking responsibility for their play.

3. Part of the issue might be that Sens fans are used to a certain type of leadership. Prior to Andy's arrival, Ottawa's alleged number one goalies were Brian Elliott, Pascal Leclaire, and Martin Gerber. All pretty mild-mannered guys who didn't rock the boat. You have to go back to Ray Emery's time in the capital for a Senator goalie who spoke his mind. But there are several teams around the league which (for better or worse) have goalies who take an active leadership role (think the Rangers, Devils, Canucks, Canadians). In many ways, Ottawa's used to goaltending controversy, but doesn't want it stemming from a goaltender's comments or personality. Since his arrival in 2011, I've noticed Anderson doesn't generally say "that one's on me" in post-game comments or Sports Centre sound bites. I haven't been keeping track or anything; it's just happened enough that I took note. But something Elliotte Friedman wrote in a "30 Thoughts" column recently made me wonder if it's just his way to stay on top of his game:

"21. I thought of golfer Mike Weir after hearing Martin Brodeur rip the ice conditions after Sunday's outdoor game at Yankee Stadium. Weir would often blame spike marks on the green for bad rounds and a reporter who knew him well explained Weir was taught by a sports psychologist to do so to protect his confidence, which could be fragile. Now Brodeur has never, ever, lacked for self-belief. But this is different. We're getting near the end of a magnificent career and you can see it isn't easy for him. He still wants to play. But after a game like that, he knows the New Jersey Devils will want to lean on Schneider, who's been excellent. It's his time."

Andy's not near the end of his career by any means, but he's been torched for a lot more goals this season. He's the team's number one and wants to stay that way and not dwelling on mistakes or shifting the focus might be part of his bounce-back routine.

Spezza has even bigger shoes to fill. Alfie's lengthy reign as captain cemented what fans expect an Ottawa Senators captain to be. Alfie played hard, played hurt, never seemed to slump, and handled the media as the face of the franchise. While he always talked to the media and despite winning the Lays Bet You Can't Eat Just OneTM leadership award, Alfie will never be remembered for a Messier-esq tone. The thing is, it's ok that Spezza's leading in the way that works for him. Lately, it's been on the ice, which is fantastic.

Both Anderson and Spezza found out that holding your teammates accountable for their play is a lot easier when your own play is meeting expectations.

4. So how about Stephane Da Costa? He's recorded three goals and one assist in his last five games and looks dangerous when on the ice. Even the first three games of his most recent call-up looked stronger despite not registering a point. It's a far cry from how he started the year in October, registering just one assist in four games while generally being a non-factor. In his first four games he averaged 11:27 TOI/G and 0:40 PP TOI/G (most of which comes from 1:40 TOI in his second game). His last five games? He's averaged 8:50 TOI/G and 1:28 PP TOI/G (but only played on the power play against Tampa and Columbus). Paul MacLean seems to be controlling his ice time somewhat, but there's not much change. The big difference? His CF is 66.2% since his January recall, up from 51.1% in his first four games. It doesn't hurt that he's been paired with Erik Condra, who's solid at driving possession and Cory Conacher, who has some playmaking skills.

5. Often after the Olympics, teams give returning players a game off to readjust and recoup, especially if they've made the medal round. After their 2006 gold medal win in Torino, many Swedes stopped in their homeland on their way back to North America and as a result missed some NHL time. Ottawa's first game back pits the Sens against the Red Wings. Considering these factors, it's possible that Daniel Alfredsson already played his last game in Ottawa in December.

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