Sens' Cowen rising star on hit parade

Senators defenceman Jared Cowen is getting more and more comfortable on the blue line ... and...

Senators defenceman Jared Cowen is getting more and more comfortable on the blue line ... and opponents are paying the price. (QMI Agency)

Don Brennan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:36 PM ET

He’s not at all flashy, nor does he put up anywhere near as many numbers. But every once in a while, Jared Cowen will remind everyone that Erik Karlsson isn’t the only good, potentially great young player on the Ottawa blue line.

And when Cowen makes a point, it can generally be heard loud and clear.

Take Thursday, against the New York Rangers, for instance. The Senators fell behind early on a Ryan Callahan goal, but about a minute later, Cowen stepped up and delivered a tremendous, open-ice hit on Brian Boyle, sending the 6-foot-7, 244-pounder sliding into the boards.

Seconds later, Zack Smith tied the score and the Senators were wrapping their mitts around the game.

“I think any time that happens, it’s a potential momentum swinging moment in a game,” coach Paul MacLean said Friday. “Much like a big goal or a big actual fight, a big hit can change the momentum of a game, too. I thought it helped us a lot. I thought it added to the physicality of our team from that moment on.”

Sure enough, the Senators have become a club that has a considerable amount of jam. Before Friday’s games, they ranked seventh in hits. While Chris Neil has assumed his usual position among the NHL’s top five, contributing mightily has been Cowen.

The 21-year-old rookie has registered 180 and sits 20 on the league list.

“I just read the pass coming to him and stepped up ... I tried to hit him pretty hard because he’s a pretty big boy,” Cowen said of the belt on Boyle, before agreeing that yes, sometimes big hits don’t get the credit they deserve for their impact on a game. “They’re hard to do and there’s lots of timing involved. They can change the course of the game, the momentum. I’m not saying that’s what happened (Thursday) night, but sometimes it happens.”

Cowen’s season has had a dip, from when he was seeing 28 minutes a night to a reduced role on the 5-6 pairing. But he’s back now working with veteran Sergei Gonchar and contributing with solid defensive play.

Versus the Rangers, he was on everyone’s list of three stars.

“I’m just feeling better, more relaxed,” said Cowen, who has five goals, 16 points and an even plus-minus rating as one of four Senators to play in every game this season. “Not worrying about the things I can’t control. Just worry about my game, not the other guys games or how the standings are going. Things like that. Just worrying about myself, because that’s all I can really control.

“(Management) showed they have patience in me. It’s still my first year, but I think I have high expectations of myself and they do, too. Everyone goes through those little spurts, but I think mine were more related to just how I was feeling, and how the team was going at the same time.

“I know I’m a good enough player to get out of those situations.”

Glad he’s a teammate and not an opponent is Smith, who has a fondness for the banging and crashing game himself.

“You wouldn’t guess it's his first year,” Smith said of his fellow Westerner. “He jumped right into the role. He’s such a big guy, he skates so well and he’s good with the puck ... he’s such a strong guy in our end. Lots of times he outmuscles guys.

“He’s one of the big guys that play hard. They’re going to make sure you don’t want to go in the corners when you go against them. He’s obviously not (Zdeno) Chara, but I’d put him up there with that kind of player. He’s hard to play against. He’s got kind of a mean streak to him.”

The Senators take a 9-3-1 record from their last 13 games into Saturday’s battle with the Buffalo Sabres, who are scratching and clawing to get into the playoff picture. In their last outing, the Sabres lost 3-1 to the Bruins and lost Thomas Vanek when their second leading scorer was crushed by a Johnny Boychuk hit.

It’s not known for sure if Vanek will be able to return from an “upper body” injury to play the Senators, nor if highlights of the Cowen hit on Boyle left a lasting impression on Buffalo players who caught it on TV.

“We certainly hope so,” MacLean said when asked about a possible carryover effect. “But I’m not sure if it does or not.”

Asked if such thunderous checks were remembered from game to game when he played, MacLean smirked.

“You always knew who you were playing against,” he said.

Six months into what is sure to be a long NHL career, Cowen has already become one of those players you know you’re going to be playing against.

 

 


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