Jared Cowen has been through it all before.
The Senators’ towering 6-5, 228-pound defenceman says it wasn’t easy feeling comfortable again following knee surgery during his junior career and he acknowledges it’s taking him longer than he wanted to find his rhythm following hip surgery last November.
“It’s more physical than anything,” said Cowen, who, like many of his teammates, endured a rough game during Tuesday’s 5-0 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. “My hip isn’t bothering me, but it was the same way with the knee.
“The season after surgery is always up and down. You’re playing, but you’re not really playing (the way you used to). It’s a tough schedule. You’re playing so many games, it’s tough to really feel good about what you’re doing. It’s just the constant battles.”
When the season began, the Senators were counting on Cowen being a solid, stay-at-home, top four fixture on the blueline. They were asking him to use his intimidating size to punish opponents, to clean up pucks along the boards and to clear bodies from in front of goaltenders Craig Anderson and Robin Lehner.
Cowen quickly dismisses any suggestions that he’s feeling the weight of increased expectations after signing a four-year, $12.4 million extension midway through training camp.
“That’s not even a factor at all,” he said.
Yet like so many other things with the 7-7-4 Senators, Cowen has been inconsistent since the season began.
His timing has been off, sometimes a split second late covering an opponent in front of the net, occasionally caught in limbo in the transition from joining the offensive rush to defending.
A case in point came on the Flyers’ second goal Tuesday. Cowen was beaten to a loose puck along the sideboards and the puck went behind the net. A few seconds and a pass later, Jakub Voracek had control of the puck behind the net. Before Cowen could recover, Voracek had tucked the puck past Craig Anderson with a successful wraparound goal.
Cowen’s night didn’t get much better from there. He played 19:07, only 14 seconds more than Mark Borowiecki, who assumed Cowen’s spot beside Erik Karlsson for much of the third period.
At practice Wednesday, Karlsson had been reunited with Marc Methot.
With Chris Phillips still nursing an undisclosed injury, the defence pairings for Friday’s game in Boston are uncertain, but it’s possible the Senators could take the extreme step of making Cowen a healthy scratch.
Senators coach Paul MacLean recognizes Cowen has struggled, but he says the defenceman is doing everything possible to work his way out of his funk.
“We show it to him (on video), we talk to him,” said MacLean. “We sit with him and try to discuss it with him, ask him how he’s doing, how he feels, what do you see here or there, but at the end of the day he has to come and play and come and work at it. And he does.
“Jared Cowen works at the game as hard as any player. Yeah, it has been a bit of a struggle for him, but he’s still an outstanding young player in the National Hockey League. We have to be there to support him and his teammates have to come and help him out, too.”
SPEZZA’S ROTATING WINGERS
Milan Michalek and Cory Conacher were on Jason Spezza’s wings at practice Thursday, but Spezza knows better than to suggest it will stay that way for any extended period. One day, Colin Greening could be on the left side with Michalek moved to right wing. The next day, Mika Zibanejad could be on the right side instead of Conacher.
At this point, a Zibanejad-Conacher rotation could continue for a while because MacLean is not keen on breaking up the Clarke MacArthur-Kyle Turris-Bobby Ryan and Greening-Zack Smith-Chris Neil trios.
“Spezza is a world-class player and he makes others players better,” MacLean said, when asked about the musical winger situation.
Zibanejad, who met on the ice with MacLean at the end of practice to make sure he understands what the team is expecting from him, says he’s trying his best to not overthink everything, whether he’s on the first or the fourth line.
“Just do the most with the shifts I am getting and not go back to the bench and regret that I didn’t do something,” he said. “Just play and not think too much of what other people think. It’s a problem worrying too much. It could be a problem for a guy like me. I analyze a lot, that’s the way I am.”
Sticks and stones may break my bones but tweets will never hurt me. Apparently, that’s how Senators goaltender Robin Lehner has chosen to accept the “You’re an idiot!” tweet from pop star Keshia Chante, girlfriend of Philadelphia goaltender Ray Emery.
Lehner tweeted back, “I know. So What?” with a happy face attached.
It’s assumed that Chante was responding to Lehner’s comments, published in the Citizen Tuesday, that Emery’s pounding of defenceless Washington goaltender Braden Holtby was “disgusting,” was deserving of a long-term suspension and would have amounted to assault in any other setting.
Right winger Erik Condra, who has missed the past five games with a leg injury, went through a full practice for the first time since the injury and could be back in the lineup against Boston.