Senators Ups and Downs: Week 19

Jared Cowen did not play like this against Boston. Sometimes understatement can be an exaggeration. - Dilip Vishwanat

Ups and downs is a feature that looks at the individual performances of the Ottawa Senators during the past week.

Pulp Fiction is not a good movie. Yeah, I said it. In fact, I'd suggest it's one of the most overrated films ever made. At 154 minutes long, it's a meandering tale that lurches from scene to boring scene. By the end of the film, you've forgotten most of the boring you've just watched because it's so boring--and then Jules hits you with a badass speech and that's the last thing you remember, and you walk away thinking, "Whoa, this movie was awesome!" But... it wasn't. The ending was awesome. It's fresh in your mind and you mistake the impression it leaves you with for how you feel about the whole film.

On any given week, 5 of 8 points is pretty good--especially when three of those points come against the Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues. You'd expect the Ottawa Senators to beat the bottom-dwelling Buffalo Sabres (in a one-goal game, natch) so things are going pretty well. And then the team closes out the week with a 7-2 pasting at the hands of a Boston Bruins team missing captain Zdeno Chara and resting goalie Tukka Rask. Suddenly, you forget that the Senators were a sick Marc Andre Fleury glove save on Erik Karlsson away from beating the Penguins 2-1 in regulation. The fact that the Sens rallied from a 3-1 deficit against the team with the best goal differential in the NHL--a team that that hadn't lost on home ice to an Eastern Conference team all year--dissipates like dust in the wind. All you can remember is the absolute stank of what you saw last. The key is to not let that one memory skew your entire perception.

Easier said than done.

Biggest gains: Eric Gryba

We think you'd be hard-pressed to find someone to argue that Gryba is not playing the best hockey of his career right now. Gryba remains slow and one-dimensional--that's probably never going to change--but while those things may sound negative, they don't necessarily have to be. While they may be flaws compared to someone like, say, Erik Karlsson, the question is whether Gryba can adapt his game to them and turn them into strengths. By and large, he has. Gryba's timing is significantly improved, and while his physicality certainly hasn't dropped off, he's not getting out of position to deliver it this year. (Mark Borowiecki take note.) Puck-handling and passing not great? No big deal, that's what forwards are for. Separate your opponent from the puck, find the outlet pass, and support the rush. That kind of defense will win a lot of games, and Gryba doesn't have to be Karlsson to provide it. "Simple" should never be considered a flaw--a guy like Chris Phillips made a very long career out of it. If that turns out to be Gryba's ceiling, anyone asking for more is an ass.

Biggest losses: Jared Cowen

As mentioned weekly, Ups and downs is a feature that looks at individual performances during the past week. These colorful little arrows are assigned based on a player's cumulative week. It is extremely rare that we'd look at one game as the qualification for ranking a player, but Cowen's performance against Boston cannot be overlooked.

It's true that Cowen was certainly not the only player who laid an egg in that game--you could pick a name using a dartboard and odds are they could have done better--but Cowen's performance had very few redeeming qualities to it. Was it one bad game? Maybe. Was it just a matter of damaged confidence snowballing as the game progressed? Maybe. Whatever it was, it was inexcusable. Is it unfair to make too much out of one bad game when all of the defensemen underperformed? Maybe. But Cowen doesn't have the bankroll of tolerance built up that a guy like, say, Karlsson does. He has to be better than he was on Saturday or the rest of the games don't matter. Hopefully it's just another stumble on what's been a bumpy road of development.

Goaltenders Trend Notes
Craig Anderson He was very strong against Pittsburgh, good enough against Buffalo, and part of the problem against Boston. Anderson just doesn't seem able to put teams away like he did last year.
Robin Lehner He hasn't been strong of late, and after getting peppered by St. Louis and down 3-1, he could have folded. After his teammates stormed back to take a 4-3 lead and he let in a weak goal to tie the game at 4, he could have folded. After going to a shootout where he's struggled all of his career, he could have folded. At no point did he fold.
Defensemen
Cody Ceci Outside of the Boston game, had a solid week.
Joe Corvo Didn't get a chance to play this week. Hard to imagine he will at this point.
Jared Cowen See "Biggest losses."
Eric Gryba See "Biggest gains."
Erik Karlsson 4P (2G, 2A) in 4 games. Both goals came from getting into position for great passes from centers with top-end vision. As mentioned, he could have had three such goals had he not been absolutely robbed against Pittsburgh. Conclusion: Karlsson is good.
Marc Methot Still looks pretty good alongside Gryba.
Chris Phillips Remains out with a lower body injury. Not sure there's a spot in the lineup for him when he comes back.
Patrick Wiercioch Sick snipe against Boston. We have a suspicion that Wiercioch is going to be really good when he has two more seasons under his belt. We also have a suspicion that getting there is going to be a rollercoaster.
Forwards
Cory Conacher Jeeze, did you know Conacher had three assists this week? That's just fine for a fourth-liner in our books.
Erik Condra Just one assist this week, but he's part of a pretty good fourth line with Conacher and Da Costa. Doesn't need to put up points to be valuable.
Stephane Da Costa One goal and one assist in three games. We considered him for biggest gains, but liked Gryba just a little more. We're glad he's going to continue to play in Binghamton during the Olympic break--he should rejoin the team brimming with confidence.
Colin Greening 13 hits from Greening in 4 games. He's got that part of "power forward" down
Matt Kassian DEFINITELY not the problem against Boston.
Clarke MacArthur No points and a possible foot injury. Not cool.
Milan Michalek 3 goals in 4 games. Not much more needs to be said.
Chris Neil Back to regular old Neil.
Bobby Ryan Everyone wants Bobby to score. Hopefully his trip to Europe recharges his batteries.
Z. Smith Did his job this week.
Jason Spezza 6P (1G, 5A) in 4 games. Spezza was a kingmaker this week.
Mark Stone Should be back after the Olympic break. But... where? There aren't enough spots to go around with Spezza and Michalek showing chemistry.
Kyle Turris Another goal and another assist. Though Spezza has overtaken him in the points lead among forwards, having two centers scoring at around .75 points per game isn't exactly a problem.
Mika Zibanejad We were going to say that we want Zibanejad centering his own line, but all three of his assists this week came while playing alongside Spezza. It's probably better to leave him playing with the talent in the top six, especially when Da Costa is rocking with Conacher and Condra.

Special thanks to our friend winterion at Japers' Rink for our icons!

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