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Wayne Scanlan, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Sunday, January 28, 2007

Spezza shows flashes of his usual brilliance in his return to the Senators' lineup after being out of action for five weeks with an injury.

Jason Spezza returned to the Ottawa Senators lineup, and guess what?

The world didn't end.

His team didn't implode.

After driving talk shows with his absence -- it was Spezza's bad luck that his team got hot when he was hurt, fooling some people into thinking he was dispensable -- the man of the hour looked more relieved than excited when it was over.

"I think the guys wanted to make sure they played well for me because they've heard what's been said," said Spezza, who set up the first goal in a 3-1 Senators victory over the Boston Bruins.

With 14-plus minutes played, Spezza played more of a cameo role than lead, but he showed flashes of his usual brilliance.

It was a scene Ottawa hockey fans have witnessed a hundred times before, but not for the past five weeks: Spezza, firing up ice with a head of steam, making something out what seemed like nothing.

He dishes a pass, gets one back, and now the puck is bouncing so he tips it back to an open Patrick Eaves. And Eaves rips it past the glove side of Tim Thomas to bring an end to 42 minutes of scoreless hockey.

Welcome back, Jason.

You've been missed, despite all the fun this team managed in your absence.

"It's important to get these talented guys back in and keep winning," said Senators head coach Bryan Murray. "It's good for him, it's good for the team to see that, and obviously it's good for you guys because you have good stories."

Murray delivered a message early on that Spezza was returning to a different world. The Senators have been playing a tighter defensive game and generally working harder than they did early on, when they had a full roster.

Nobody exemplified this newfound religion better than Spezza's former sidekick, Dany Heatley, who had a couple of insane shifts working both ends of the ice yesterday.

Nothing was going to be handed to Spezza, including his former spot alongside Heatley and Chris Kelly on the first line.

There was no Spezza on the starting unit. Centre Mike Comrie, acquired during Spezza's knee rehabilitation, received that honour along with Chris Neil and Peter Schaefer.

In fact, two other lines made an appearance and still no Spezza. Then the Bruins took a penalty, and Spezza did not start on the power play. Finally, with about a minute left on the power play, Spezza jumped over the boards to renew his vows, nearly four minutes into the first period of play.

When was the last time No. 19 waited almost four minutes to get on the ice? (Hello, Jacques Martin?)

He laughs.

"It was interesting -- I'm thinking, first shift, power play, here we go, it would be nice to maybe chip one in and get a bump or something."

Murray certainly eased him into the rotation. Tough guy Brian McGrattan had almost as much ice time as Spezza in the first period. McGrattan played four minutes 18 seconds to Spezza's 4:31.

Murray said he could tell Spezza needed a little time to adjust.

"The first two shifts, it looked like when he came off, he was tired," Murray said. "He had no legs. Maybe he was too hyped up.

"But when he got control of the puck, he played like Jason Spezza can play. He held on, had his head up and made some real good passes."

Conditioning was less of a factor than his own state of mind.

"I felt good, but it was the timing routes and touch passes," Spezza said. "Things you don't normally think about, maybe you think about a bit more. Especially in the first period, I was thinking about everything."

Each time out Spezza looked more comfortable, more like his old self. In the second period, he wheeled from the corner, spotted Antoine Vermette open in the near faceoff circle and slipped him a pass for a scoring chance.

On their next shift, the line of Spezza, Vermette and Eaves was working a classic cycle sequence when Eaves fired a pass through the slot to Spezza, who tipped it just wide.

It was the story of the first two periods of a scoreless game, Ottawa had the puck, carried the play and created most of the chances, had most of the power-play opportunities but couldn't put anything past Thomas, hockey's most unathletic-looking athletic goaltender.

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