Pair of 6-5 defenceman start together in preseason game against Maple Leafs
TORONTO — Perhaps it’s appropriate that Ottawa Senators defencemen Jared Cowen and Patrick Wiercioch made their debut playing defence together at the Air Canada Centre.
After all, the combined wing span of the 6-5, 230-pound Cowen and the 6-5, 210-pound Wiercioch is roughly equivalent to that of a small plane.
As exhibition schedule experiments go, the twin towers pairing, unleashed for the first time Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, offers great potential. The hard-hitting Cowen has the ability to punish opponents physically, while the playmaking Wiercioch can offer up a second wave of offence from defence after Erik Karlsson.
When those two are together, there’s limited space for opponents to move and it could serve as part of the Senators top four on defence, along with Karlsson and Marc Methot.
For all that, it will only work if Wiercioch can adapt to playing on the right side of the ice rather than the left, where he has played his whole life.
“People don’t often think about it, the different reads that you make,” said Wiercioch, a left-handed shot. “Offensively, it’s great walking along the blueline, but (in your own end), you’ve got to get the puck out a little quicker. There are little things that you need to adjust and think about a little more.
“It’s about repetitions and at practice, every time, doing breakouts. Getting back to the puck and getting a feel for it spatially.”
As a left-handed shot, Wiercioch will be on his backhand side against the boards inside the Senators’ blue-line and may not have time to switch to the forehand to clear the puck. Inside the opponent’s blue-line, however, he’s on his forehand when he skates towards the middle of the ice.
Cowen has some familiarity with the situation. His former partner, Sergei Gonchar, was a left-handed shot who preferred playing on the right side.
“He liked it when he played there,” said Cowen, who played his first game of the pre-season Tuesday. “Most of it is just getting minutes played in that position and getting used to it because you feel like a fish out of water a bit. It takes an extra second to get the puck from your forehand to your backhand.”
There’s also a blind spot if you’re going back to retrieve a puck on your backhand, which creates some nervousness, according to Cowen.
“It feels like you’re going to get crushed all the time,” he said.
Cowen isn’t getting ahead of himself about anything just yet. He’s maintaining a well, healthy, attitude when it comes to setting goals for the upcoming season.
“Not to get hurt, that’s the first one,” he said. “It’s hard to have goals when you haven’t played regularly for so long. Even when I returned last season (from surgery to repair an injured hip), I wasn’t really playing like my normal self.
“I just want to come back and be somebody they can depend on.”
Cowen, who missed the opening of camp because of an extended contract fight that ended with him signing a four-year deal worth $12.1 million U.S., says there are no lingering effects from the surgery.
“Compared to how I feel now to when the playoffs were on is night and day, I want to have the ability to push the tempo and I’m not worried about that,” he said. “Hopefully, I can play more minutes. The worst thing for me is to sit on the bench. I just feel (when playing more), I have more rhythm, and, if something bad happens, I can just flush it and get on to the next shift..”
While Clarke MacArthur was playing in Toronto for the first time since leaving the Maple Leafs as a free agent last summer, fellow Senators forward David Dziurzynski was paying his first visit to Air Canada Centre since being knocked out cold by Frazer McLaren in a fight during a game last season.
“I try not to think about it,” said Dziurzynski, who is expected to begin the season with Binghamton of the American Hockey League. “I have to move on and play my game. That is part of the game, a bad thing that happened, but I don’t want to look too much into it.”
When 2013 first-round pick Curtis Lazar finally returned to practice Tuesday after missing two weeks with an injured shoulder, he received a big bonus. With Jason Spezza opting to sit Tuesday out, Lazar took his spot at centre between Milan Michalek and Bobby Ryan.
Lazar said he had felt ready to go for several days, but understood why Senators medical staffers were being cautious. It’s expected that Lazar will get a shot at playing in one of the Senators’ final three pre-season games before being assigned to the major-junior Western Hockey League’s Edmonton Oil Kings.
There was good news all around for the Senators on the injury front on Tuesday. Goaltender Craig Anderson, who wants to play in two more exhibition games, and left-winger Milan Michalek were back on the ice after missing Monday’s workout for “maintenance.” Defenceman Eric Gryba, who had been out with an undisclosed lower body injury, also skated.