With Erik Karlsson's return set for tonight against Vancouver, we've got a special edition of the Game Day 5 presented by Molson Canadian chocked full of 5 super important things about the Sens captain.
1. The injury
It's been awhile so I thought we'd start with a quick recap of how Karlsson was injured in the first place so let's rewind back to March 28th, 2017 in Philadelphia. Karlsson, who blocked 201 shots last season (good for second most in the league), was struck in the skate boot by a relatively innocent looking point shot against the Flyers. He appeared to be in some discomfort but stayed in the contest scoring the game's opening goal and logging nearly 25 minutes of ice time.
After sitting out the team's next two games, Karlsson made a surprise return against the Red Wings on April 3rd joining his teammates for the final game of their road trip in Detroit and was used sparringly in the team's remaining games after the Sens clinched a playoff spot where they would eventually dispatch the Boston Bruins in the first round.
Video: 2016-2017 Top 5 Moments - Game 3 vs. Bruins
Ahead of the Sens' second round series against the New York Rangers, Karlsson shared with the media that he had been playing with two hairline fractures in his foot and would later confirm after the season that he also tore tendons in the same foot during the first round.
"I'm not much for secrets," said Karlsson in late April. "It's probably something that's not going to affect me anymore moving forward. It's something that's done with. I just felt like getting it out of the way instead of having it keep lingering on."
A month or so later, the Sens dropped a heartbreaking Game 7 to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins in double overtime and Karlsson was scheduled in for surgery in mid-June.
2. The recovery
EK65 attended the NHL Awards in Las Vegas on June 22nd as a finalist for the Norris Trophy and spoke with the media for the first time about a week after having surgery to repair torn tendons in his left foot.
"This is going to be completely different from my achilles injury," said Karlsson. "I've gone through it before having a leg injury so hopefully that will give me some perspective and help me in the recovery process."
When asked about his timeline to resume skating the captain joked: "No clue. I'm going to have to start walking first."
It was a combination of rest and rehab for Karlsson over the summer as he kept his eyes set on opening night but small complications from the surgery delayed his ability to resume skating.
"It's just a matter of getting the scar and skin to move properly so that it doesn't keep splitting open which it hasn't stopped doing," relayed Karlsson at the team's annual golf tournament back on September 11th. "That's why I'm still wearing flip flops. The doctor originally told me that it would be 3 months with no movement and after that it would take the time it takes to be able to put my foot in a skate again."
He eventually resumed skating on his own and finally joined his teammates on September 23rd for his first practice at training camp.
From there it was "practice jersey roulette" as Karlsson would don a variety of different colour jerseys during team skates. Media and fans alike would spend their time trying to decifer the meaning of each colour which is something fellow defenceman Chris Wideman enjoyed watching.
"I actually do know the answer to that but I can't tell you because it's been too much fun watching everyone trying to figure it out," said Wideman on Oct. 6th.
When pressed on which colour was his favorite Wideman said: "I personally think he looks really good in the light blue. We'd obviously like to see him back in red or white because that means he's close to playing but that power blue looks pretty good on him."
That day finally came yesterday when Karlsson took the ice with the team in a red Sens practice jersey for the first time in months signifying that he had cleared the final hurdle in his recovery and had been cleared to resume contact.
3. The green light
While his attendance at practice yesterday without a colourful "non-contact" jersey was a good indication that the captain was back, Sens head coach Guy Boucher made it official following the skate. "100%. Ready to go," said Boucher. "He's playing tomorrow."
Following the coach's confirmation, Karlsson spoke with the media regarding his impending return against the Canucks, something that he said he's more than ready for.
"I had the appropriate amount of time to get ready to play again," said Karlsson from his stall on Monday. "I'm going to be a little bit rusty probably but it's better to get back into things as early as possible."
The Sens are in the midst of a 3-game winning streak after a historic trip through Western Canada and have yet to concede a loss in regulation. The team's success to start the season has been beneficial for Karlsson who hasn't felt pressure to rush back into action.
"It always helps when the team is playing well," said Karlsson. "It's been easier for me to watch and it let me take my time so I haven't been getting too antsy. They've done a great job."
Video: Oct 16: Karlsson Practice Media
4. The "best player in the world"
The Sens captain has worked himself into some elite company on the ice as well as into the very subjective debate regarding the league's top talent. Boucher weighed in with his opinion on Monday and no surprises here, he's got Karlsson at #1.
"I think he's the best player in the world," Boucher said of his captain. "First of all, he's my player (laughs). Obviously the Crosby's and the McDavid's are the top forwards in the world, Karlsson is the best defenceman in the world and I think with defencemen being on the ice for 30+ minutes that has such an impact. That's why I see it this way but hey...let's not kid ourselves, I have all the respect for Crosby, McDavid and the other guys considered in that group. Whether you like one or the other, those are the top players in the world but I like my player."
Video: Oct 16: Boucher Practice Media
The coach has also previously referred to Karlsson as a "bazooka" in regards to not limiting his minutes which is something to monitor in the captain's first game back. Last season under Boucher, Karlsson finished 4th in the NHL for with an average of 26:50 TOI/game.
"When you've got a bazooka in your hands you don't want to keep him on the bench," said Boucher during training camp in 2016. "You could use a pistol for a bit or just go with the bazooka a little longer."
5. The return
The captain will be in the house tonight at Canadian Tire Centre and I'm advising you to do the same if you can. There are some seats still available to see the "best player in the world" so click here and grab some because he's definitely worth the price of admission.
If for some reason you can't make it to the rink, catch King Karl's return as the Sens host the Canucks at 7:30 p.m. on TSN5 or on the radio on TSN 1200.