OTTAWA – Jason Spezza came into the season looking to silence his critics and with his play of late he is doing just that.
Spezza had two goals and an assist Tuesday night as the Ottawa Senators extended their winning streak to four games with a 5-2 win over the Atlanta Thrashers.
“I’m excited to get playing,” said Spezza, who missed four games due to a groin injury. “Our line is starting to get some chemistry. (Kovalev) is playing real well and we hope to build off that.”
After struggling through the first month of the season, the Senators (8-6-1) seem to have found their game and Ottawa coach Cory Clouston says Spezza is a big part of the turnaround.
“He’s a big part of our team and what it does is alleviates pressure from other lines and puts a little bit more focus on him,” said Clouston. “But right now we’ve got contributions from a lot of other guys and it’s nice to see…and obviously he’s a big part of that.”
Senators goaltender Brian Elliott, making his 11th straight start, was solid stopping 35 shots.
Ottawa also saw Chris Neil and Jesse Winchester score their first goals of the season. Sergei Gonchar also scored.
Clouston had been preaching the importance of getting some secondary scoring and to see contributions from various players is a relief.
“We’re getting production from different guys and it makes it a lot better in the dressing room,” said Clouston.
Andrew Ladd and Anthony Stewart scored power-play goals for the Thrashers (6-6-3).
Atlanta’s Chris Mason started the game, but was pulled after allowing four goals on 18 shots. Ondrej Pavelec allowed one goal on 11 shots.
“We were trying to give the boys a wake-up call,” said Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay. “I told everyone to pat him on the back as he’s been battling for us and now it’s your job to turn it around.”
The Thrashers started strong, scoring a power-play goal four minutes into the first, but struggled for much of the remainder of the game.
Ottawa tied the game midway through the period as Spezza beat Mason with a quick shot shortside. Just over four minutes later the Senators took the lead with a power-play goal. Spezza won the draw and dropped it to Erik Karlsson who fed Gonchar for a one-timer past Mason.
“They scored first, but we did a good job of taking over the game and cycling,” said Spezza. “We played with a lot of possession and got some goals and I thought we played pretty well all around.”
Atlanta’s best chance came late in the first as Rich Peverley caught Gonchar flat-footed, but his shot caught the post and the Senators were able to clear the puck as it lay in the crease.
“So far we’ve been successful at scoring a big goal when we needed it and tonight we just didn’t get that done,” said Ramsay.
Neil picked up his first of the season early in the second and then Winchester made it 4-1 as he jammed the puck through traffic in the crease.
“It was nice to contribute,” said Winchester. “Our line’s been playing well lately so hopefully we can keep it going.”
Defensively the Thrashers continue to struggle as they are dead last in the league in goals allowed and Tuesday’s performance will not help the cause.
Elliott’s best save of the period came after Winchester’s clearing attempt deflected off Chris Campoli’s skate right to the Sens goalie.
“Things like that happen,” Elliott said with a laugh. “I’m just glad I was watching the puck the whole time.”
Spezza picked up his second of the night on the power play in the opening minutes of the third period. The Thrashers replied with a power-play goal of their own as Stewart was left alone in front and caught Elliott moving.
Notes: Milan Michalek returned to the Senators lineup after missing four games due to tendinitis in his knee. . . The Senators were without D Filip Kuba (broken right leg day-to-day). D Brian Lee was a healthy scratch. . . Atlanta was without C Patrice Cormier (broken foot, indefinite), C Bryan Little (concussion, indefinite), and D Freddy Meyer (undisclosed, day-to-day).