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Senators stepping up in Karlsson's absence

Off to 3-0-2 start without injured defenseman, who could return Tuesday

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / Staff Writer

EDMONTON -- Defenseman Erik Karlsson may make his season debut when the Ottawa Senators play the Vancouver Canucks at Canadian Tire Centre on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, TSN5, SNV, NHL.TV), but the Senators have had no trouble getting off to a fast start without him.

The Senators (3-0-2) swept a three-game road trip to Western Canada for the first time in their history, finishing it off with a 6-1 victory against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Arena on Saturday.

Karlsson, the 2012 and 2015 Norris Trophy winner, has missed the first five games after surgery to repair tendons in his left foot on June 14.

"I look back on our experience last year during the regular season and every team deals with injuries at different times to key pieces and obviously with [Karlsson] out, we've talked about it in our room," veteran defenseman Dion Phaneuf said. "Really, you don't replace Erik Karlsson.

"We've been open about that, said it publicly, so this is about doing it together. As defensemen, you've got to share the workload. He plays 30 minutes a night so those minutes get dispersed over the guys we have playing."

There's plenty of credit to share so far.

In their 6-0 victory against the Calgary Flames on Friday, the Senators blocked 24 shots to Calgary's six. In Edmonton on Saturday, the results favored Ottawa 27-9, pushing the Senators to 105 blocked shots in five games, most in the League.

Video: Hoffman, Turris score twice to lead Sens to 6-1 rout

And that has been one element of the Senators' early defensive excellence. Ottawa has allowed eight goals, tied with the Carolina Hurricanes for second-fewest in the NHL (Los Angeles Kings, 7) and has given up a League-low 1.60 per game.

"The guys that have gotten overlooked are our forwards," Phaneuf said. "When a guy like [Karlsson] is out, they do a great job of supporting us. Maybe it's the extra couple of feet coming back, having good sticks or blocking shots. The reason we've had success is because we've done it together and we've taken pride in doing it together.

"We've taken a few good strides here early."

In their victories on back-to-back nights in Alberta, the Senators were quicker on pucks, more opportunistic and always taking away their opponents' time and space. It added up to a 12-1 advantage in goals without one of the most talented defensemen in the League.

"He's obviously a huge part of our team but right now we're getting some puck luck and we're playing the team game," said center Zack Smith, who had two assists against the Oilers. "It was kind of like a kick in the butt, maybe a wakeup call, with him out. We know we have to rely on each other and not be individualistic about it or try to do it all ourselves, and that's what we've done. And it helps when you get the bounces and our goaltenders have been playing amazing.

"We play, I think, a frustrating game to play against. We've done that on this trip especially."

Coach Guy Boucher said the Senators are simply used to doing without important players for stretches of time.

Video: Erik Karlsson takes the No. 3 spot

"I guess it's surprising a lot of people but if you've been around the team, last year the whole year, that's what we had all year," Boucher said. "We had top-end players [missing], including our No. 1 goalie (Craig Anderson), missing for 26 games.

"We pulled through and we were consistent the entire year, getting our results. So that's what we told ourselves, that there's no reason we can't stay consistent.

"We'll be very happy to get the captain back, trust me. He's such a big part of this team in all aspects, so hopefully he's able to come back on Tuesday."

It's also fair to wonder if the Senators' early success is somehow driven by a sense of unfinished business from last season. Ottawa was one victory, one goal, from reaching the Stanley Cup Final, losing in seven games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final.

"None of it; it's not about that," Boucher said. "For us, we're approaching it the exact same way as last year. It's all about today. It's never about the past, it's never about the future. It's about today.

"The greatest athletes, that's what they have in common, that they're able to focus on that one moment to perform, regardless of the past or future. The past and future are something you don't control and they don't bring you anything once you're on the ice. Our players have become really strong about that."

It may or may not be Ottawa's motivation, but there is great value in the experience of last season.

"It was a good taste for a lot of us who have never been past the second round," Smith said.

The focus, though, is ahead, said center Kyle Turris, who had three points (two goals, assist) against Edmonton.

"I think everybody was obviously frustrated with how we ended, being one goal away from the Stanley Cup Final," Turris said. "But it's a new year and we learned from it and you can't just dwell on it. We're just excited to start the year and get going again and have a new chapter."

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