But the veteran Ottawa Senators blueliner feels ready to finally make his season debut. While Carkner is being held out of tonight's matchup with the Devils in Newark, N.J. (7 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200), the fact he's now back with the big club after a conditioning stint on the farm is a sign that day isn't far off.
"It's the coach's decision to get me back in there," said Carkner, who was recalled today from the Binghamton Senators after seeing three games worth of duty with the American Hockey League club. "But coming off these games, I feel confident and I'm excited about getting back into the lineup."
Senators head coach Paul MacLean says that could happen as soon as Saturday, when the Vancouver Canucks visit Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). Carkner met the team in New Jersey after suiting up for the B-Sens in their 1-0 home-ice loss Wednesday to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, and MacLean didn't want to expose the blueliner — who's been sidelined since undergoing right knee surgery in September — to back-to-back games by playing tonight.
"We're going to give him every consideration Saturday and going forward," MacLean told reporters earlier today in Short Hills, N.J., where the Senators are preparing for tonight's contest against the Devils. "He brings physiciality, for sure. He's got size and he can box out at the net. He's a defensive-type defenceman, but he's an effective penalty killer and he's a competitor."
Carkner believes the conditioning stint in Binghamton was the right tonic for him after being away from game action for so long. The 6-4, 237-pound blueliner hasn't played a National Hockey League game since Feb. 26, which knee surgery cut his 2010-11 season short.
"I needed a game or two there just to get back into the feel of things," said the 31-year-old Carkner, who recorded one assist, six shots on goal and 11 penalty minutes during his stint with the B-Sens. "It's been awhile since I played and I was seeing how my body would respond. But after the first period, I fit in nicely and started to feel the game a little bit more.
"It's a confidence thing, knowing you can make plays, and it's hockey. I've played it my whole life and just getting back into that feeling definitely made it worth going down there."
There was no shortage of ice time for Carkner, either.
"One game, I got nine penalty minutes and I played 27 minutes," he said. "They definitely let me play. I played quite a bit every night and added some physical play. I did everything I would normally do and it was great."
Carkner is itching to provide more of the same in Ottawa soon enough.
"I'm a little different than guys on the team right now," he said. "I'm a big physical guy who can help out the team if guys are taking liberties (against my teammates). That's my game and it always has been. I'm a hard worker and I like to keep things simple. It's ultimately up to the coaches, but I'm going to be working hard to get back in there."
The Senators, meanwhile, are getting little in the way of time to ponder Wednesday night's home-ice loss to the Washington Capitals at Scotiabank Place, in which they squandered a 2-1 lead through 40 minutes. But MacLean thinks that might be a good thing.
"Our team has responded pretty well after losses this year," he said. "I think that's what our expectation would be (tonight), to get ready for another game and not dwell too much on last night. Just get ready for the next game and give ourselves a chance to win."
Around the boards
Alex Auld draws the starting assignment in goal tonight. It's his first action since stopping 30-of-32 shots in a relief role for No. 1 stopper Craig Anderson in a 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Nov. 25. His last start was five days earlier in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Canucks in Vancouver. "We just want to see him come out, have a good effort and be himself," MacLean said of Auld. "If he can stop one more than the other guy, that would be real good" ... Expect veteran Martin Brodeur to get the start for the Devils ... No other lineup changes for the Senators, meaning forward Nikita Filatov is again a healthy scratch ... Don't forget to throw your support behind Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, Milan Michalek, Erik Karlsson and Sergei Gonchar on the 2012 NHL All-Star Game fan ballot. You can vote 30 times for each player at vote.nhl.com or by texting their last name to 81812.