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Karlsson mounting early offensive for Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators blueliner Erik Karlsson, who ranks among the NHL's early-season scoring leaders, might be setting himself up for a shot at breaking Norm Maciver's longstanding modern franchise record for scoring by a defenceman of 63 points (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

For nearly two decades, it has remained the gold standard for Ottawa Senators blueliners.

Who knew back in 1992-93, when Norm Maciver led the expansion Sens with 63 points, that it would remain the team's record for points by a defenceman for so long? That it would stand the test of time for all these years.

While Ottawa hasn't exactly been bereft of offensive talent over the years on the back end, only one player — Wade Redden in 2005-06 — has managed to hit the 50-point plateau since Maciver set the pace in the franchise's first season.

Perhaps then, as the Senators mark their 20th anniversary season, it's almost appropriate that Maciver's mark might just face its biggest challenge yet. With eight points in the Senators' first six games to date, the dynamic Erik Karlsson not only is tops on the team in scoring, but he shares the National Hockey League lead in scoring among defencemen with Marc-Andre Bergeron of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Want more? The 21-year-old Swede's seven assists are tops in the league (tied with Brian Campbell of the Chicago Blackhawks) and he's just one point back of the NHL's overall scoring leaders, Phil Kessel of Toronto Maple Leafs (6-3-9) and Anze Kopitar of the Los Angeles Kings (5-4-9).

If you're looking for a silver lining in the Senators' 1-5-0 start to the 2011-12 campaign, Karlsson's numbers would surely serve as a starting point. Even if the third-year Ottawa blueliner hardly sees himself keeping it up through a full 82-game season (he's on pace for a 109-point year, if you haven't done the math. But yes, it's very early).

"It's six games," Karlsson said with a grin following Senators practice earlier today at Scotiabank Place. "I know I can't keep up this pace for the rest of the season. It's going to be really, really tough. I'm still going to do the best I can to help the team and if I can put up points, it's great for everybody."

Karlsson admits he hasn't paid much attention to where he ranks among the NHL's statistical leaders. It's not exactly front of mind, he added, with the Senators off to a slow start and coming off Tuesday's 7-2 home-ice loss at the hands of the Philadelphia Flyers. Karlsson scored one goal and drew an assist on the other, but hardly revelled in that achievement.

"I haven't really looked at stats the whole season," said Karlsson, who totalled 45 points (13-32) in 75 games last season. "It's not really the time to do that now. My first year here, I can't remember how many games we won, but we won a lot more than we did last year at the beginning and a lot more than we have (so far) this year.

"You don't really think about (personal statistics) as much as you would have done if we'd won six games. (Our record) doesn't help right now."

There is also the matter of his play at the other end of the rink. When Karlsson was selected 15th overall by the Senators in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, he came advertised as a blueliner who possessed top-end offensive skills. While he's been everything Ottawa asked for — and more — during his short time in the league, Karlsson wants to be known as more than just a point machine.

"I want to be a two-way player," he said. "I don't just want to be recognized for putting up points. I'm working on it and I'm doing the best I can every game to try to prove that I can play at both ends of the ice. Right now, it's hard, but I've just got to keep going.

"I think I play with less risk now than maybe I did in my first two years. I try to make safer plays now than I did before ... I think I'm on my way to learning when to do what and what not to do. Hopefully, that can help me to be a better hockey player."

Around the boards

Defenceman Sergei Gonchar, who suffered a bruised foot in Saturday's 2-1 loss to the Washington Capitals, returned to practice this morning and head coach Paul MacLean expects the veteran Russian blueliner should be good to go for Thursday's matchup with the Winnipeg Jets at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet Sens, Team 1200) ... MacLean agreed Gonchar's absence might have contributed to the 0-for-5 performance by the Ottawa power play in Tuesday's loss to the Flyers. "It was the best power play in the league when he was on it," said MacLean. "When he wasn't on it, we went 0-for-5. Sergei is an important part of our power play and the success of it" ... Forward Jesse Winchester, sidelined since Sept. 18 with a shoulder injury, is now a full participant in practice with his teammates. As to when he might be ready for game duty, MacLean said "it's just a matter of him getting up to speed and getting comfortable with the contact. We'll monitor it day by day and take it from there." ... Maciver, who scored the final goal for the original Winnipeg Jets before they relocated to Phoenix after the 1995-96 season, is currently the director of player personnel for the Chicago Blackhawks.

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