Penguins lose as bounces go Ottawa's, Spezza's way in win
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OTTAWA -- Jason Spezza doesn't think of himself as a goal-scorer, and he probably shouldn't.
Not so much because he can't do it -- after all, the guy has gotten 127 of them in the NHL, including three in Ottawa's 3-2 victory against the Penguins at Scotiabank Place yesterday -- but because with linemates such as Dany Heatley and Daniel Alfredsson, there usually isn't much need for him to.
"Usually, I'm the dish man," Spezza said.
He allowed, though, that he, Alfredsson and Heatley "try to not have defined roles," which helps to explain why they make up one of the finest lines in the NHL.
Heatley probably is the best trigger man of the three, Spezza the top playmaker and Alfredsson the best all-around performer, but the differences in their offensive talents are mostly just varying degrees of excellence.
"When you have three guys like that, if you cover one, you're still looking at two guys who are dangerous," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said.
Nonetheless, the Penguins recognize Spezza's niche as the primary set-up man, and that likely played at least a minor part in his winning goal at 19:21 of the second period.
He had the puck behind the Penguins' goal line and, to no one's surprise, tried to feed it in front to Heatley. Defenseman Kris Letang certainly expected as much and crouched down to break up the pass, only to have it carom off him and into the net.
"Just a lucky bounce," Spezza said. "It's nice to get those."
Had the Penguins gotten another one or two of those, they might have avoided slipping to 15-7-4 and being stuck four points behind the first-place New York Rangers in the Atlantic Division.
Then again, if they had just been a bit more opportunistic, they might not have finished their road trip with a 1-1-1 record.
Consider that Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Petr Sykora had a three-on-one break 90 seconds into the game, but failed to get a shot. That Jordan Staal beat Senators goalie Alex Auld seven minutes into the second period, but his shot slammed off the right post. That with 12.6 seconds left in regulation, Malkin couldn't get the puck past Auld from the slot.
"We had a couple of good looks," Crosby said.
Even so, the opportunities the Penguins failed to exploit didn't trouble them as much as the ones they failed to generate.
"I don't think we created enough chances," Staal said. "You're going to get those chances every game, and we have to create more. We didn't put enough pressure on the goalie."
The NHL schedule-maker might have had as much to do with that as the Senators, because the Penguins traipsed up and down the Eastern time zone the past few days.
"This was the third game in less than 72 hours for us," coach Michel Therrien said. "Our team didn't have the normal energy to play that game. They were fresh, and we seemed tired a little bit."
Which is pretty much what the Senators anticipated.
"We knew they'd played a few games and that it was an afternoon game, so that we could take advantage by getting off to a good start," Spezza said.
Still, neither team scored until Spezza beat goalie Dany Sabourin on a wraparound at 4:01 of the second period.
He made it 2-0 at 8:52, slapping a shot past Sabourin from about eight feet after Heatley all but whiffed on an Alfredsson set-up from behind the goal line. But Staal got the Penguins back to within one by deflecting a Crosby feed behind Auld during a power play at 16:17.
Spezza got what proved to be the margin of victory 39 seconds before the second intermission for, while Malkin injected a little suspense with a short-handed goal at 9:12 of the third, the Penguins couldn't get any of their other four shots during the final 20 minutes past Auld.
So the Senators got back to .500 (10-10-4), and coach Craig Hartsburg got a reminder of why he reunited the Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson line seven games ago after breaking it up for the previous nine.
"When they're together, they work well," Penguins defenseman Hal Gill said. "Whoever it is, they find a way to get open. That's a tough line to cover. You can't give them anything, or they take advantage of it."
Even when it means the job descriptions have to be altered a bit.
First Published December 7, 2008 12:00 am