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Karlsson named all-star despite going through difficult season

Senators defenseman has dealt with long injury rehabilitation, illness, team struggles

by Mike Zeisberger @zeisberger / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Just hours after being named to the Atlantic Division All-Star team, Erik Karlsson could hardly talk anymore. Try as he might, he couldn't help it. The bug he was fighting made his voice sound like he was a teen going through puberty.

By the time he'd finished his audience with reporters, the Ottawa Senators captain was almost completely hoarse.

"I don't think I can speak anymore," he said.


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With his media scrum evaporated, Karlsson was about to duck into the back bowels of the Senators dressing room when he was asked one final question by the lone remaining reporter.

"Has this been the weirdest season you've ever experienced?"

"Oh ya," he responded, his voice having deteriorated into whisper-like territory. "We'll talk about it later sometime, when I have a voice to talk with."

With a wink and a smile, he disappeared through the door.

"He's been sick," Senators coach Guy Boucher said after Ottawa's 4-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre on Wednesday. "Give him credit for battling out there."

If Karlsson has been nauseous lately, it's with good reason. Riding the roller coaster that he and the Senators have been on all season would make anyone's tummy queasy.

Case in point: In a 24-hour span, the Senators went from being humiliated 8-2 on home ice against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, to defeating the rival Maple Leafs in the latest instalment of the Battle of Ontario.

Up, down, up, down, up, down … even Karlsson admits the ebbs and flows of the 2017-18 season are enough to make a guy dizzy.

"I think it was nice that we could come back right away and play against a good team like this," he said. "No one was satisfied with the way we played yesterday. It was a completely different team we put out there today.

"Some of us aren't feeling that good but we battled. And that's a promising thing."

Karlsson has been dealing with a number of issues since last spring.

Seven months ago, half of Karlsson's left ankle bone was removed during surgery to repair torn tendons in his foot. He missed all of training camp, a process that has lasted almost four months into the season.

In that span, he has been peppered with questions. About his surgery. About reports concerning the Senators financial stability. About their sluggish season, one which sees them tied with the Edmonton Oilers for 27th in the League with 39 points (15-18-9). And about his impending free agent status in 2019.

Video: MIN@OTT: Karlsson blasts in one-timer for PPG

All this less than a year after the Senators came within one overtime goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins of reaching the Stanley Cup Final.

In a season of dealing with healing ankles and sore throats, give the defenseman credit for embracing the opportunity to represent Ottawa at the 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Game on Jan. 28 (3:30 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVA Sports). He only hopes his voice will have recovered by then.

"It's a great event," Karlsson said. "I always enjoy taking part. It's nice that it's going to be in Tampa. I have a lot of friends down there and guys who are going to be playing in that too.

"But I'm going to enjoy this break we have right now first."

The Senators do not play again until Jan. 18 when they host the St. Louis Blues. At that time, they hope to build off the modest momentum they've built in recent times.

Indeed, the six-goal loss to the Blackhawks is the only blemish they have in their past four games (3-1-0). Included are victories over the Maple Leafs, San Jose Sharks and Tampa Bay Lightning, teams that are in the top half of the NHL standings.

For forward Matt Duchene, this was his first taste of the Battle of Ontario. A native of Haliburton, Ontario, located about 125 miles north of Toronto, he grew up watching the heated Maple Leafs-Senators playoff series of the early 2000s.

"They were great," said Duchene, who was acquired from the Colorado Avalanche on Nov. 5 in a three-way trade that also included the Nashville Predators. "I have to admit I cheered for Ottawa at the time."

Duchene had two assists against the Maple Leafs, including setting up Tom Pyatt's winning goal with 3:05 remaining in the third period.

"Being able to play in one of these is special," Duchene said. "And to win it says a lot about our team."

The victory was the fifth consecutive one for the Senators at Air Canada Centre, their longest-ever win streak there. Maybe playing in Toronto is the perfect elixir for what's been ailing Karlsson and the Senators.

Just don't ask Karlsson to comment on it in the next couple of days. In this, his self-admitted weirdest of seasons, he and his beleaguered voice are enjoying some much-needed R&R.

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