NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.
The latest edition features Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson:
LOS ANGELES -- The Ottawa Senators are in second place in the Atlantic Division, two points ahead of the Boston Bruins with five games in hand. This is the same Senators team that was picked to miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs by 18 of 20 NHL.com writers and NHL Network analysts who did preseason predictions for this website.
Say what you want about preseason predictions and the people who make them, but it's clear that the Senators have, to date, exceeded the expectations many here and elsewhere put on them before the season, especially after a coaching change to Guy Boucher and a summer that included one big trade with the New York Rangers (Derick Brassard for Mika Zibanejad) but not much else.
Ottawa has traded flash for grind under Boucher. It is 12th in the League in goals-against per game (2.60) and penalty kill (82.5 percent). The Senators are tied for second for the fewest goals allowed in the third period (37). They have the 11th-best winning percentage in one-goal games (.522).
Video: OTT@SJS: Karlsson buries wrister from the high slot
Meanwhile, they're 18th in goals per game (2.62) and 19th on the power play (17.3 percent). Mike Hoffman leads Senators forwards with 35 points, which is tied for 47th in the League. Defenseman Erik Karlsson, who leads them with 39 points, is on pace for 68. He had 82 points last season.
How and why are the Senators in line to be a playoff team? Karlsson took some time during 2017 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend to explain.
Here are Five Questions with … Erik Karlsson:
This is a simple question, but I think you guys are exceeding what expectations were this season; why?
"I think that our structure has been really good. I think the system that Guy brought in is very different from what most people play, but for our team it's been working really well. We've been doing really well against the teams that are really good and it's because everybody really bought into it and everybody is doing the same thing."
Here's a stat for you: The Washington Capitals have scored four or more goals in 12 of their past 15 games; the three they didn't were against the Senators. Now I know you lost two of those games 2-1 and 1-0, but why does your system work against the good teams, as you said? What are the benefits of it?
"Well, we're winning games. I think that's the benefit of it. But to get there it's a tough system to play. It requires a lot of effort and I think the guys have really put it in. I think we work really hard. We take a lot more pride in just defending. There are going to be a lot of games where it's a 1-0 game and some we win and some we don't, but we've always been able to play solid in the defensive zone. One other thing is our goalies have been amazing. When Craig [Anderson] was in net early in the year I think he played terrific, and when he left [Mike] Condon came in and you can't really say anything more about what he's done. He's played in 24 straight games and he's done an outstanding job stopping the pucks that he shouldn't stop and the ones he's supposed to stop he does. That adds a lot to it too. If you look at our whole team on paper, we're not the best team in the League. But I think everybody has really done a good job in contributing, especially defensively. That's why it's going the way it's going."
Video: WSH@OTT: Condon denies Winnik, Oshie back-to-back
OK, so how does your game fit into this system? Because you play a freestyle type of game. Do you have to be more conscientious? Is Guy on you to be more conscientious? Or is he letting you play your game?
"No, I think I'm still playing my game. I think I've obviously changed my game a lot coming into this year, but not in a bad way. It's the way I have to play right now for us to win games and we're winning games. That's the most important part. Whether it's different or not, it's working and it's part of evolving as a player. As of right now, yeah, I do play very different. I do play very defensive. I don't get any rushes, but at the end of the day we keep winning and I think we're doing a great job as a team. I think everybody has bought into it, and I know if I'm not going to do it most guys won't. I've got to give it to the whole team, I think everybody changed a lot, not only me, and at the end of the day we're doing well right now, we're happy with where we're at and we know we can do even better."
Video: OTT@PIT: Karlsson helps out Anderson with stick stop
Do you think you've surprised other teams?
"Yeah, I think so. I think we have a young group of guys that hasn't been around that long and we have a lot of skill. But at the same time we haven't really shown before that we can play together. I think we've really done that this year. I think the system that we play is a little bit surprising. Even though we've talked about it before, if it's working, if we're having a good game, it's tough for other teams to get through it."
You're not a surprise anymore. You've played 47 games. So tell me about the challenge now as you come out of the All-Star break with 35 games still to play, with expectations, with everybody thinking this is a playoff team. How do you handle that?
"This is going to be the tough stretch. This is going to be the stretch where you don't talk about it anymore, you have to do it. I think that's going to be the challenge for our team, is being able to sustain it, because that's the hard part. I'm not going to say it's easy to get to where you want to go, but it's definitely a lot harder to stay where you want to stay. That's what we've got to work on. Again, I think we've had a great mentality all year. Day by day, game by game, we focus on the one game, not the game after or the game before, and we've got to keep that mentality. I think that's been a big part of our success. We play in Florida on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET; FS-F, RDS2, TSN5, NHL.TV) and that's all we're worried about. After that we move on to the next game and hopefully we can sustain that feeling in the room. I think if we do that, even if we're going to lose some games, it's going to be tough to beat us."