|Second-year defenceman Erik Karlsson has moved to the top of the Senators scoring list with eight goals and 23 points, providing welcome offence from the blue line (Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images). |
could hardly hold back a grin when asked if he'd ever led his team in scoring.
"When I was younger," the second-year blueliner said following the Ottawa Senators' pre-game skate earlier today in advance of tonight's matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200). "So I don't think that counts."
Karlsson isn't exactly an old man these days — at 20 years old, he's the youngest player on the Senators roster — but here he is, setting the scoring pace in Ottawa with 23 points, including a team-high 15 assists. And yes, it matters a whole lot to a team sent reeling by the loss of No. 1 centre Jason Spezza
to a right shoulder injury earlier this week.
No doubt the Carolina Hurricanes will be playing close attention tonight when they pay a visit to Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200) in a matchup that's vital for two teams still working to vault from ninth place into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
"He makes other teams aware," Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson
said of Karlsson, whose two goals made the difference in Sunday's 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. "They know when he's on the ice and I'm sure they talk before games now and say 'finish your check on him every time.' But it's been fun (for us) to watch him."
Needless to say, Karlsson is enjoying himself a lot more these days than back in November, when the Senators were mired in their worst stretch of hockey so far this season and he was made a healthy scratch in back-to-back games. But it's probably no coincidence now that the Swedish blueliner has produced 11 points as the Senators have gone 5-2-2 in their last nine games, though he prefers to view it the other way around.
"It’s more about the team playing well," he said. "You can’t do it all by yourself. Everybody has stepped up the last few games here and that’s what makes each person looks better. At the beginning of the season, everybody had it pretty rough and didn’t feel like maybe the way they wanted to. But you work through that and if you look back now, that wasn’t so bad. You’ve just got to build on what you have right now and (remember) you’re never as good as you were in your last game."
While Karlsson's offensive contributions are most noticeable, Senators head coach Cory Clouston sees much more in the way of contributions from a defenceman that continues to mature with each passing game.
"It’s more about the team playing well," he said. "You can’t do it all by yourself. Everybody has stepped up the last few games here and that’s what makes each person looks better. At the beginning of the season, everybody had it pretty rough and didn’t feel like maybe the way they wanted to. But you work through that and if you look back now, that wasn’t so bad. You’ve just got to build on what you have right now and (remember) you’re never as good as you were in your last game." - Erik Karlsson
"We’re using him on the penalty kill, we’re using him against top lines, so we’ve added a lot to his game as far as responsibility," said Clouston, who doesn't underestimate the influence of Karlsson's current defence partner, veteran blueliner Chris Phillips
. "There’s confidence involved in that and it comes from focus, not only from game to game but within the game.
"He’s been able to hold and maintain his level of play throughout the game a little bit better and that comes from experience. And it comes from working well with Chris."
Said Karlsson: "Right now, I think we feel great. (Phillips) has been playing really well and he's been helping me out a lot. He always backs me up and we have a good talk on the bench. I really like playing with him."
Confidence has rarely been an issue for Karlsson, who brought oodles of it with him when he first arrived in Ottawa last season. He insists that even when he was struggling earlier this season, that part of his game never wavered. Indeed, veterans such as Alfredsson and Phillips rave about a quality that isn't often seen in a player so young.
"You see it every now and then," said Alfredsson. "It’s a fine line. A lot of times, coaches might think ‘he’s trying to do too much.’ But then again, if you just tie his hands behind his back and make him a checking player like everybody else … there’s not a lot of guys that have the talent (he has) and you’ve got to be able to forgive the mistakes he makes because he makes up for it offensively."
Added Phillips: "He's a talented player that seems to be coming into his own right now. When he's playing with that confidence and that ability to know he can make some plays, it's fun to watch."Around the boards
The Senators (16-17-4) and Hurricanes (16-15-4) each enter tonight's game with 36 points, six back of the Montreal Canadiens, who currently own the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot ... Brian Elliott gets the start in goal, with Binghamton callup Mike Brodeur dressing as the backup ... Fewer than 350 tickets remain for tonight's game, while 750 are left for Saturday's contest with the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Place (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) ... As part of the Sens Gameday Experience presented by Esso, the Senators will hold an open practice Thursday at 11 a.m. It's free to the public, with donations being accepted for the Ottawa Food Bank. Doors open at 10:30 a.m.