Senators-Islanders Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated February 19, 2012
Only an extended period of time off has been able to slow down Jason Spezza. The red-hot Spezza and the Ottawa Senators have had four days off in advance of Monday afternoon's trip to face John Tavares and the New York Islanders. Spezza has five goals and eight assists during a five-game point streak. Twelve of those points have come during the Senators' current 3-0-1 surge. "I feel like I'm maturing as a player and as a person and I think that I'm maybe recognizing situations on the ice better than I have in the past," Spezza said. "I have a real good relationship with (coach) Paul MacLean, he's come in and we've had some good dialogue in trying to alter some things in my game." Spezza totaled one point when Ottawa (30-22-8) went 0-6-1 prior to the last four games. He believes the skid was an aberration. "We were a pretty consistent club for the most part up until that seven-game losing streak," Spezza said. "I think we found our game again a little bit." The Senators are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 68 points. They have not played since Wednesday's 6-2 victory at Florida, with MacLean allowing the team to spend two off days without skating to rest up for the stretch run. Ottawa is one of numerous teams New York (25-25-8) is chasing as it seeks its first postseason berth since 2007. "We know what's at stake," coach Jack Capuano said. "They haven't played (in a while) so they'll be a well-rested team when they come in here." While Spezza has been carrying Ottawa, Tavares is trying to do the same for New York. After an eight-game stretch in which he had just two assists, the third-year center had two goals and an assist in Saturday's 4-3 home win over Carolina. Tavares has 58 points - nine shy of his career-high total last season. "We gotta realize we gotta keep it going," Tavares said. "We can't let our foot off the gas pedal. We need as many points as we can get." The Islanders have won three straight over the Senators, winning 2-1 on Mark Eaton's overtime goal Feb. 3 in the lone matchup this season. That contest was the only one in which Ottawa picked up a point during its season-worst losing streak. The Senators are a more confident group now, with third-year defenseman Erik Karlsson contributing five points in his last three games. "The last four games I think we've played a lot better," winger Daniel Alfredsson said. "Getting some points too obviously lightens up the atmosphere a bit. We've got some days here to work on some things and then back at it on Monday." These teams also meet Sunday in Ottawa, and the Islanders realize they have little margin for error. "It's a big game obviously, where both teams are in the standings," Tavares said. "We know they've turned up their play a little bit so we've gotta come out ready. It's a huge game." Tough guy Zenon Konopka will return to Long Island for the first time since leading the NHL with 307 penalty minutes in 2010-11 in his lone season with New York. Konopka is second in the league with 168 this season.
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