OTTAWA - The Ottawa Senators will have to try and build on their impressive start without one of their star forwards.
Jason Spezza will undergo surgery Friday in Toronto for a herniated disc and will be out for the foreseeable future.
Senators general manager Bryan Murray told reporters Thursday that it's too early to provide a timeline for Spezza's return, but the team is hopeful that he'll be able to play again this season.
Spezza had felt some slight discomfort through training camp, but the pain was manageable. Things took a turn for the worse in Sunday's 2-1 shootout loss to Pittsburgh.
"He doesn't know the individual incident that happened," said Murray. "He went into the shootout and scored, but he said he was being bothered at that time."
Spezza was assessed by Ottawa doctors and received a second opinion before choosing to have surgery.
The Senators believe surgery is in Spezza's best interest.
"You could probably take days off and play a game here and there," said Murray. "But that doesn't make any sense for him or us so getting it done and hopefully getting it cleaned up will allow him to come back 100 per cent and continue his career. "
Doctors have told Murray that the procedure isn't that complicated, but in Murray's opinion any surgery is "major".
It appears the procedure is somewhat similar to the surgery Daniel Alfredsson had following the 2010-11 season.
Back issues have plagued Spezza, 29, throughout his career, and Murray said Spezza was clearly devastated at the recent turn of events.
Spezza had surgery following the 2006 season, but continued to miss games the following season due to recurring back pain. Spezza has had ongoing treatment to deal with flare-ups.
Last season, Spezza scored 34 goals and added 50 assists for 84 points in 80 games. He has two goals and three assists in five games this season.
"Like us, he's devastated," Murray said of Spezza's reaction to the news. "We all know the importance of Jason and what he brings to the table here as well. For him, and a young man coming off a great year, he was hoping to build on that."
The loss will leave a huge hole at centre for the Senators, but Murray is hopeful the team will be able to fill the gap internally.
"You can't replace high end skill very easily," Murray admitted. "It's a big loss. The fortunate thing for us is we do have some people that play very hard on this team...we have a group that will compete hard and hopefully we'll make our way through a busy time, a busy schedule and continue to compete at the level, but we don't pretend we can replace that skill level."
Murray hasn't ruled out making a trade, but it's likely they will look internally in the short term.
"Our group is strong here, the coaches have done a real good job, the leadership core with Alfie and them is outstanding and we just have to make due and hope the group we have will continue to play hard."
Entering play Thursday night, Ottawa (5-1-1) and Boston shared top spot in the Eastern Conference standings with 11 points apiece. The Bruins were scheduled to play the visiting Buffalo Sabres on Thursday while the Senators are back in action Friday at Carolina.
Spezza, a 29-year-old native of Mississauga, Ont., has 621 points (228-393) in 611 career regular-season games. He has 51 points (17-34) in 53 career playoff games.
Spezza was selected by the Senators with the second overall pick in the 2001 NHL entry draft. He has spent his entire career with the team.
Spezza's injury will give Mika Zibanejad greater opportunity. The 19-year-old forward was recalled Monday and picked up a goal and an assist in the two games he's played this week.
"If (Zibanejad) continues to play at that level he will be here for a while," Murray said.
The Senators would likely have considered bringing up Mark Stone or Mike Hoffman from Binghamton, but both are currently sidelined with their own injuries. Stone has a broken finger and Hoffman is dealing with a broken collarbone.
Defenceman Sergei Gonchar also missed Wednesday night's game, but Murray doesn't anticipate him missing any more time. No call-ups are scheduled for Friday's game.