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Senators' stars not shining vs. Penguins

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- For the Ottawa Senators to have any chance of upsetting the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, their best players are going to have to be their best players.

Erik Karlsson
Erik Karlsson
Defense - OTT
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 6
SOG: 16 | +/-: 2

That definitely was not the case in Game 2 on Friday night.

Reigning Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson was minus-2 and had more minor penalties (one) than points, hits and shots on goal combined. Goalie Craig Anderson, the NHL regular-season leader in goals-against average and save percentage, was pulled after allowing three goals on 21 shots. Longtime captain and franchise icon Daniel Alfredsson had one shot on goal and was minus-1.

The result? A 4-3 win for the Penguins and a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series.

"It's one of those things where you've got to keep getting better," Anderson said. "You're going to have some adversity, and teams are going to have to battle through it."

The Senators don't have much time to do that if they are going to stay in the series. Game 3 is Sunday at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS). A loss in that game could all but turn out the lights on Ottawa's season.

"The big thing for us is we know we play better going home," Alfredsson said. "I believe it's going to be a different kind of game for us [there]."

Karlsson's game, in particular, stood out -- for all the wrong reasons. He was on the ice for each of the Penguins' first two goals, both by Sidney Crosby. Karlsson's hooking penalty 49 seconds into the second period led to the power play that resulted in Crosby's third goal of the game.

Karlsson was playing his 10th game since returning from a lacerated Achilles sustained Feb. 13 and he's still working his way back to his former form. Earlier this week, coach Paul MacLean said, "I don't think his play is close to where it was."

After Friday's game, Karlsson said, "I have to find a way to figure my body out, and obviously I am not feeling my play the way I am used to. Started bad and couldn't get it going. I guess I ran out of luck too."

Karlsson played 15:37. Only once since Dec. 23, 2009, had Karlsson been on the ice less than he was Friday -- and that was when he left a March 31, 2011, game at the Florida Panthers in which he sustained a cut by a skate during the first period.

"Obviously, he wasn't one of our best players," MacLean said. "On our team, the best players play; Erik wasn't one of the best players today and so he didn't play.

"He didn't play well."

His teammates stood behind Karlsson, who was second in regular-season NHL average ice time with 27:09. During his Norris Trophy campaign of 2011-12, Karlsson averaged 25:19 of ice time while putting up 19 goals and 59 assists.

In two games this series, Karlsson is minus-3 with three shots on goal and no points.

"I don't think there's any doubt that he's fighting it a bit," veteran defenseman Chris Phillips said. "He didn't play there for a long while. He's sucked it up to get out there and try to help us and we're going to support him to the fullest to allow him to be the best that he can."

After Alfredsson had six points and was plus-5 in a Ottawa's five-game series win against the Montreal Canadiens in the first round, he has one point (an assist), four shots on goal and a minus-2 rating in two games against the Penguins.

Although he did not take a penalty, Alfredsson was on the ice during two infractions against the Senators that led to first-period Penguins power plays.

"We set them up in the beginning to rush around in our zone for the first period and get the lead," Alfredsson said.

That was part of what got Anderson pulled. He allowed seven goals over a two-game span for the second time this year (regular season and playoffs). MacLean said the move wasn't an indictment of Anderson but rather an attempt to change the momentum of a game that Pittsburgh led 3-1.

"It was more for the team; it had nothing to do with the way Andy had played," MacLean said. "It was just to get the team to recognize the fact that we were in a game and that we needed to play."

Crosby's second goal was from a bad angle. A high standard, yes, but Anderson's play was not of someone who had a 1.69 goals-against average and .941 save percentage during the regular season. He has allowed four first-period goals in the two games of this series.

"It's just a matter of weathering the storm, and when there's momentum against us, finding a way to change the momentum," Anderson said.

"I think the tone of the game changed [when MacLean went to backup Robin Lehner], and we started to play a lot better. Maybe it was a wakeup call for everybody."

The Senators hope they'll get the message prior to Sunday.

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