Wednesday, April 17, 2013
The Backhander: Cowen’s Return A Painful Affair For Carolina, A Game-Changer For The Sens
Jared Cowen’s first few shifts against the Hurricanes weren’t a complete disaster, but they weren’t out of the pages of Lloyd Percival’s Hockey Handbook either. His surgically repaired hip apparently wasn’t bothering him, but it seemed like his skates were untied and his hands were swollen. A tough giveaway, a fall into the boards and a few botched breakouts indicated a ragged first game back was about to unfold. Nothing unusual for a guy who’s missed the last 5 months.
Enter Jeff Skinner.
Cowen caught Skinner accepting a suicide pass and skated right through him. While the nerds immediately spent the next hour analyzing the hit frame by frame to see if it was “legal” or not, the rest of the home crowd stood on their feet appreciating the sight. Cowen was back.
He didn’t waste time looking at the refs while Skinner lay on the ice. He shook his gloves free almost instantly knowing that someone would be coming for him. It turned out to be the 180-pound Chad LaRose who bravely took on the 230-pound Cowen and got fed multiple times for his effort.
After sitting for 5 minutes, Cowen looked strong and confident the rest of the way and even took on tough guy Kevin Westgarth in the next period. In a perfect world the Senators would rather not have Cowen getting in too many fights – that’s why they got Matt Kassian – but Cowen’s a big boy and can take care of himself if he needs to. It’s almost better that he got all of that stuff taken care of right away. There’s no bigger test for your body than getting into a scrap, let alone two, and Cowen came out of it fine.
Outside of Chris Neil and Marc Methot, the Senators didn’t seem to have the capacity to deliver those sometimes game-changing hits that can intimidate the other team. But with the return of Cowen, the acquisition of “little ball of hate” Cory Conacher and knuckleballer Kassian, this Senators team seems a little meaner, a little edgier and a lot more exciting to watch.
Even without Erik Karlsson back – whom GM Bryan Murray indicated was “close” on Sportsnet last night – the Senators defense is already transformed with just the addition of Cowen. Suddenly size is an asset, especially with rookie Eric Gryba getting a little pressure taken off by Cowen’s return. Spreading around those minutes (and size) will help Chris Phillips and Sergei Gonchar going into a possible playoff berth and Cowen will be a strong presence to put up against Alex Ovechkin for example, or Milan Lucic, depending on who Ottawa ends up facing in the first or subsequent rounds.
If you somehow add Karlsson into that group, you got a hockey team.
And to think only a short while ago this team was in a place where Mike Lundin returning to action was seen as good news.
IF they clinch a playoff spot, and IF the team is healthy enough to do it, I would think that a few guys won’t be making that last trip to Boston on April 28 to play the postponed game. Namely Daniel Alfredsson and Gonchar. Those are two vets who have largely contributed to keeping this team alive through all those injuries this season, and will be even more valuable in the playoffs. A Sunday at home with their families, resting for a first-round series sounds pretty logical. Yet there’s going to be significance to that game regardless if it will mean anything in the standings. It’s the only one on the schedule and will no doubt be emotional for all those attending in the wake of the Boston attacks. It would not surprise me if those two vets would want to be there anyways....
... With the Sens in a position to be real Cup contenders as soon as next year, it would make sense to re-sign Gonchar this summer. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time but he’s really made me appreciate his game this season. He’s just so consistent every night and largely goes underappreciated outside of his lengthy scoring streak earlier this year. He’s never been fully embraced by Senators fans but Gonchar would be missed more than people realize. Even if the demand is two more years on a deal, that’s a contract Murray should be comfortable with taking on. Gonchar doesn’t look old to me and the same goes for Alfredsson. These guys could even have off-years and still help you in the playoffs with all the experience they’ve earned. Gonchar coming back would eat into Gryba’s games total but injuries will always give that seventh defenseman an opportunity. And the balance will be there with Gonchar – three offensive minded D-men and three defensive types. Sounds like a good fit to me.....
.... No league’s fans complain more about their own sport than NHL fans, and so it was no surprise that all we heard was shrill whining about the imminent announcement of 6 outdoor games next season. Yes, endless complaining about games that will instantly sell-out, that will bring in record revenues to the league and will sell a years’ worth of sweaters and memorabilia in every host city. What a disaster. Fire Gary Bettman for having the audacity of making everyone unfathomable amounts of money and raising the profile of the league. Clearly he’s an idiot and everyone tweeting from their couches with Dorito stained fingers knows more about the “integrity of the concept” than he does. And if we ever get a game in Ottawa at Lansdowne Park, I’m sure Sens fans will stay home because the novelty has worn off.