OTTAWA – Jason Spezza may have to wait a few days to see how fans react when he takes the ice at Scotiabank Place for the first time this season.
The Senators star centre, who spoke up in the spring about his unhappiness at being booed by Sens fans during Ottawa’s first-round playoff loss to Pittsburgh, could miss the season opener against Buffalo on Friday night because of a groin injury.
Spezza left practice early Wednesday and didn’t skate with the team Thursday. He didn’t meet with the media, but coach Cory Clouston said Spezza will be a game-time decision.
“He was very disappointed that he wasn’t able to practise today,” Clouston said.
Ottawa plays three games in four days to start the campaign, and the Senators would prefer to take precaution rather than risk aggravating the injury further.
“We don’t think it’s going to be long term, if it’s any games at all,” Clouston said. “That’s why we’re not going to push Jason, and then all of a sudden he’s out four or five games.
“We’ll just have to make sure we play well as a team if he doesn’t play.”
Spezza became the target of boobirds when the Senators lost in six games to the Penguins.
During player exit meetings, he expressed his unhappiness over the reception to general manager Bryan Murray. When those comments became public, it led to Spezza having to come out over the summer and dispel rumours that he wanted out of Ottawa, so one of the storylines going into the home opener was how the crowd would react to him.
If Spezza doesn’t play, it forces the Senators into re-shuffling their first two lines.
Spezza would have centred Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek on the top line with Mike Fisher between Alex Kovalev and Nick Foligno.
Instead, Fisher will line up between Foligno and Alfredsson while Peter Regin moves up from the fourth line between Michalek and Kovalev.
Regin was one of the few Senators who had a strong showing in the playoffs and emerged as a important player in leading Denmark to a surprise quarter-final berth at the world championship in the spring.
However, with bigger things expected of him when he arrived in training camp last month, he largely disappointed and this could be a chance for him to regain some of the coach’s trust.
“I’ve played with both players before and I know what to do, so I’ll be fine,” Regin said. “It’s always a good opportunity whether I had a good camp or a bad camp.”
Another player looking for an opportunity to win some people over is goaltender Pascal Leclaire.
After a poor season last year, he didn’t instil a lot of confidence in fans during the exhibition season.
Neither did Brian Elliott, who took over the No. 1 job from Leclaire last year.
Clouston wouldn’t say who’d be in goal to begin the year.
“You want to be on the ice and I’m no different,” Leclaire said. “Brian wants to play as much as he can and I think it will be good, healthy competition. We can push each other and the team can get good results from goaltending. That’s what you need.
“Obviously, we both want to play as much as we can and we’ll see what direction Cory and the coaching staff decide decides to go.”