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Karlsson feeling right at home

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
It is where Erik Karlsson received his official welcome into the National Hockey League.

Soon enough, he hopes to inspire the loudest of cheers from Ottawa Senators fans as he puts his flashy offensive talents on display. But Saturday will represent a different coming out party of sorts for Karlsson at Scotiabank Place.

Under the brightest of spotlights, Sweden will play its first game of the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship in the building Karlsson and teammate Andre Petersson hope to call their future NHL home. The Swedes were based at the Ottawa Civic Centre through the round-robin portion of the tournament, winning all four of their games to top Group B. Next up is a 3:30 p.m. semifinal on Saturday against either the United States or Slovakia.

"I haven't played here yet so I can't tell," Karlsson said when asked what it will be like to play in front of 19,000-plus fans at Scotiabank Place for the first time. "We're going to watch the (U.S.-Slovakia) game today and it's going to be the first game that we see live here. We'll get the feeling of what it's going to be like to play here.

"I think it's going to be good. It's a great arena and the people here are awesome, so we're looking forward to it ... ... I love it here. It's a great place to play hockey."

Back in June, the Senators made Karlsson their top pick at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. Tthe 18-year-old blueliner has racked up six points (three goals, three assists) so far in the WJC to share the team scoring lead with Petersson and Magnus Svensson Paajarvi.

"He's wonderful with the puck," said Sweden head coach Par Marts. "You can't find a better offensive defenceman in this tournament."

Karlsson knows all eyes in Ottawa will be on him again on Saturday and Monday, when the medal games are scheduled to be played.

"I have to be good now when I play here," said Karlsson. "Of course, it's a little bit of extra motivation for me."

Does he expect to hear cheers from Ottawa fans on Saturday?

"I hope so," Karlsson said with a grin. "That's all I can say."

That would no doubt change Monday, if Sweden faces Team Canada for world junior gold. Still, it's a matchup that Karlsson told the media earlier this week he'd consider "a game to remember for the rest of your life."

"Right now, we're just focusing on the game tomorrow and we'll see what happens after that," Karlsson said today. "We don't try to look too far ahead. We have one game left before (the final). So our focus is on tomorrow's game."

Senators hit the road again

After two days back in Ottawa, the Senators headed off to Toronto this afternoon. They'll face the Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200) in the first of another four-game stretch of road games.

On the good news front, defenceman Anton Volchenkov and forward Jesse Winchester made the trip to Toronto and are likely to return to the lineup after missing time to recover from upper body injuries. Both practised with the team the past two days.

Martin Gerber (4-7-1) will make his third straight start in goal on Saturday.

Elliott earns AHL goaltending honour

Senators prospect Brian Elliott of the Binghamton Senators has been named the American Hockey League's goaltender of the month for December. Elliott posted a 7-2-0 record in 11 appearances for the B-Sens with a sparkling goals-against average of 1.79 and .943 save percentage. He allowed two goals or fewer in nine of his outings, including one shutout.

Elliott (17-8-1) currently leads the AHL in victories, ranks eighth in GAA (2.39) and third in save percentage (.924). He saw action in 29 of Binghamton's first 35 games so far this season.

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