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Winning comes first for Karlsson, Senators

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson, who was scratched from the lineup Monday for the first time this season, plans to make the most of his next opportunity when head coach Cory Clouston puts him back into the fray  (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images).

For the first time this season, Erik Karlsson didn't have a hand in his teammates' fate.

But the Senators defenceman insists he was just as excited as anyone in the Ottawa dressing room about Monday night's tense 3-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings at Scotiabank Place — even if he was forced to watch the proceedings from the press box.

"We won and it was a close game," Karlsson said earlier today of the bird's eye view he had of a much-needed victory to open what figures to be a hectic week. "I think you're more nervous when you're off the ice than on the ice. But it was fun."

Eyebrows were raised Monday when Karlsson was scratched from the lineup in favour of veteran David Hale, more of a stay-at-home defenceman than the young Swedish blueliner, whose wealth of offensive skills — including a rocket of a slapshot — are his biggest calling card. But Karlsson sees it as an opportunity to mature a little more as a player.

"You always learn from being out of the team lineup and it makes you realize you have to do something different to get your game going," Karlsson said following Senators practice earlier today at Scotiabank Place. "As long as the team wins, I'm happy. Whenever the chance comes back, you've got to be ready and take it.

"I'm 20 years old, so I'm in no rush. I trust that the guys above me know what they're doing. They've been right before, so they're probably not wrong this time."

Head coach Cory Clouston knows that when the second-year defenceman is on his game, he's a huge asset for the rest of the team.

"Basically, it’s about winning games and it’s about going out and executing and playing well," said Clouston. "That’s all we need him to do when he goes back. However way he approaches it ... the next time he gets in the lineup, he’s got to play well. And when he does, we win games. It’s pretty simple — he’s very effective, he’s a very important player for us and he helps us win games when he’s playing well."

Clouston wouldn't tip his hand yet as to whether Karlsson's next chance will come Wednesday, when the Dallas Stars visit Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., TSN2, Team 1200). In the meantime, Karlsson says he'll do his best to keep his head in the right place while he waits for the call to return to the lineup.

"You always learn from being out of the team lineup and it makes you realize you have to do something different to get your game going. As long as the team wins, I'm happy. Whenever the chance comes back, you've got to be ready and take it." - Erik Karlsson
"Most of the guys who came here when they were young have gone through this," he said. "It’s not like I’m going to dig a hole for myself and stay there. I’m a positive guy and I’ve got to be (that way) around the locker room and be the same guy I’ve always been. Especially when we won yesterday … you’re still a part of the team. It still feels like you did something, even though you weren’t on the ice. It’s still a great day (when you win)."

That was the prevailing sentiment around the Senators dressing room on the day after slaying the second-place team in the Western Conference en route to putting the brakes to a three-game losing skid.

"You always want to get that first one out of the way," said Pascal Leclaire, who recorded his initial goaltending win of the season Monday night. "The most important thing is that we needed to come back and play well. I’m just part of the group. You go as the team goes. It was good for me and it was good for everybody."

Added centre Jason Spezza: "The way we got beat three games in a row, guys were gripping their sticks a little tighte. To beat a team that is one of the favourites in the West and a real good hockey club means a lot for us and now we just hope to gain momentum off that."

Around the boards

Leclaire gave his teammates a bit of a scare during practice, after he took a shot from Spezza just above the pads and stayed down on the ice for a few minutes. But all is well with the goaltender who has suffered more than his share of injuries during his time in Ottawa. "Just a little bruise, a little stinger," said Leclaire. "I knew right away (it wasn’t bad). It happens a lot of times. It sucks for a couple of hours and then it’ll be all right. It happens. It’s no big deal." ... Forward Chris Neil, who didn't return to action Monday night after a spirited scrap with the Kings' Kevin Westgarth, sat out today's practice with an upper body ailment. But Clouston said "we think he'll be able to play tomorrow." ... Wednesday's matchup with Dallas is also a Metro Family Game, with fans able to score four tickets, four hotdogs and four drinks starting from $99.

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