Ottawa - Sep. 23, 2011 - The Senators opened their pre-season schedule splitting a pair of pre-season games losing 4-2 in Toronto on Monday before winning Wednesday night over the Boston Bruins 2-1 in overtime. Jared Cowen scored both Ottawa goals in Toronto, with Brian Lee and Mika Zibanejad adding the winner in overtime against the Bruins.
If the first two games of the pre-season are any indication, Jared Cowen looks ready to make the leap to the N.H.L. Cowen has looked great in the two pre-season games he’s played so far. Not only did he score a couple of goals in the game in Toronto, he’s used his size (6-5’ 226 pounds) to his advantage, punishing opposing forwards and keeping the front of the net clear. Even his speed, which is one of the major concerns when talking about a player of his size, hasn’t been an issue.
Cowen looks an awful lot like Tyler Myers of the Buffalo Sabres and at the age of 20, the sky is the limit for him. One of the biggest criticisms of the Senators in the past was their lack of size and toughness. Too many times in the past a talented yet small Senators team would get pushed around by opponents and fans would often be frustrated by their lack of fight. Things are about to change.
The Senators are finally going to see the rewards of drafting size and Cowen might be the first of the lot with Wiercioch (6-4’ 200”pounds) and Runblad (6-2’ 190”) not far behind. There is even a possibility that Eric Gryba (6-4’ 222”) might make the step in the next couple of years if he can improve his overall speed.
Most hockey experts agree that defence wins hockey games and that certainly will be the recipe for the Senators this year if they hope to have any success. The Senators finished 29th last season in scoring and unless they get some unexpected production from one of their young players this year, I don`t see things changing that much.
The Senators will have to play good defence if they hope to win hockey games this season and defence starts from the nets out. In Craig Anderson, the Senators have a bona fide NHL goaltender who has carried a team before. Two years ago he led a young Colorado Avalanche team within a whisker of winning in the first round of the playoffs. Playing in 71 games (38-25-7) with seven shutouts, he took a young inexperienced Avalanche team to the playoffs and the Senators will need the same type of performance if they have any hope of competing for a playoff spot. However, goaltending alone is not going to do it.
The Senators do have experience on the blue line, with Phillips, Kuba and Gonchar having played over a combined 2,700 games in the NHL regular season and 230 games in the playoffs. For the Senators to have any sustained success, they’ll need to draw on the experience of these 3 defensemen and hope to get at least one or two more solid years out of them before the youth movement fully takes over in Ottawa.
Both Matt Carkner and Brian Lee bring 2-3 years of NHL experience to the Senators. I don’t expect much from Carkner at the age of 30. However, he does bring them some much needed toughness and could be a good compliment to the likes of a young Cowen or Wiercioch. For me Brian Lee is the wild card; written off as a minor league player, Lee has improved by leaps and bounds since the middle of last year. He was solid during the last 2 months of the season and on many nights he was the Senators best defensemen. Sometimes with young players, especially on defense it takes a few years to develop and the light seems to have come on for Lee. He could be a pleasant surprise for Senators fans, so we’ll have to keep our eye on him.
The Senators re-assigned six players back to their junior teams - Jordan Fransoo (Brandon), Jakub Culek (Rimouski), Stefan Noesen (Plymouth), Matt Puempel (Peterborough), Shane Prince (Ottawa) and Mark Stone (Brandon) and released goaltender Matej Machovsky who was on an amateur tryout.
It will be interesting to follow the six kids sent back to their junior teams to see how they develop during the season. All six had solid rookie camps and apart from the two 1st round picks Noesen and Puempel, I’ll be particularly interested in how Fransoo and Stone play in Brandon and how Prince plays in Ottawa. Prince was the best of the lot and Stone was solid in the rookie tournament. I’m going to monitor the process of these six players and I’ll provide you with updates throughout the season.
Injury: Veteran forward Jesse Winchester will miss the entire pre-season with a shoulder injury after he hurt his shoulder during a scrimmage on Saturday.
Did you know that the first goaltender to wear a goalie mask in the NHL was not Jacques Plante? Clint Benedict was the first goalie to wear face protection in the NHL using it for five games in the 1929-1930 season.
On January 7, 1930, he was hit by a shot from Howie Morenz in the face, breaking the bridge of his nose. Benedict was out of action for six weeks and returned wearing a mask for five games. A great innovator of the game, Benedict was the first goalie to drop to his knees to stop the puck which caused a rule change to allow him to continue with this move.
However, Benedict was more than an innovator, he was a great goaltender. He played on four Stanley Cup winning teams, three of those with the Ottawa Senators and led league goaltenders in total shutouts seven times. He finished his career with a 2.44 GAA in the regular season (1.81 in the playoffs) and 117 shutouts with an incredible 55 of those earned during the Stanley Cup playoffs. Ranked number 77 on The Hockey News' list of the 100 Greatest Hockey Players, Benedict was inducted into the hockey hall of fame in 1965 and lived his life out in Ottawa where he died at the age of 84 in 1976.
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