Senators Weekly: Erik Karlsson Leading by Example

During the NHL 100 Classic, the Ottawa Senators’ stars came to play. Craig Anderson registered a shutout, stopping all 28 Montreal Canadiens shots. Erik Karlsson logged nearly 33 minutes of ice time, blocked eight shots, and assisted on the game-winning goal. Bobby Ryan scored a breakaway goal after stripping Jonathan Drouin of the puck, his second goal in two games.

These three players hadn’t played such strong games on the same night since Ottawa’s surprising playoff run last spring. This isn’t exactly a recipe for success, as there’s a strong correlation between a team’s success and the success of their best players. However, it was such a welcome sight for Senators fans because of how things had been going for the team over the past month.

During Ottawa’s disastrous month, nearly everything that could have gone wrong for the team went wrong. Anderson’s play this season has not been dominant, as the goaltender is on pace for one of his worst statistical seasons as a Senator. Karlsson, after missing the start of the season due to offseason foot surgery, has looked unspectacular while he adjusts to life with an artificial ankle tendon. Ryan has also dealt with injuries and struggled to find the back of the net while recovering from a broken finger.

erik karlsson, craig anderson
Craig Anderson and Erik Karlsson (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Of course, it wasn’t just these three who played poorly during Ottawa’s losing streak. Derick Brassard, Matt Duchene and Mike Hoffman are just a few of the other Senators who didn’t produce over the last month. With the team’s scoring and defensive woes, the struggles of both Anderson and backup goalie Mike Condon were even more under the microscope. That’s why it was so important for the Senators to play a statement game on Saturday.

The Karlsson Show

The eyes of the hockey world are very rarely placed on Canada’s capital, but the Sens made the best out of their time in the spotlight. One Senator, in particular, relished the opportunity to put on a show on the big stage. All eyes were on Karlsson from the start, but not for the usual reasons.

Following Senators’ owner, Eugene Melnyk’s controversial media availability the night before, the main topic of discussion heading into the game was the team’s financial stability. With Karlsson becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2019, there was talk about the star defenceman’s future in Ottawa before puck drop.

However, once the game got underway, the focus returned to Karlsson’s play. The captain played an exceptional, albeit simple, game on Saturday night. His 32 minutes and 55 seconds of ice time set an NHL outdoor game record, and anyone watching could tell that Karlsson was having fun playing at Lansdowne Park.

Sens fans have speculated about when Karlsson would return to form and his performance under the lights at TD Place has them once again asking the question. While his performance during the team’s previous game against the New York Rangers was not as impressive, Karlsson’s play has certainly been improving since he ended his 10-game pointless streak.

This can be seen through the way Sens coach Guy Boucher has used his best defenceman. Karlsson’s ice time has seen a recent uptick, with him playing at least 29 minutes in the last three games. Prior to last week’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, Karlsson hadn’t played 29 minutes in a game since October 24. If Karlsson feels healthy enough to play half the game again, the Senators could be in good shape in the new year.

Big Games for the Senators Coming Up

Despite the positive feelings that fans were left with after Saturday’s game, it isn’t all fireworks and fun for the Senators. The team has a tough road ahead of them to make the playoffs, and the three games that remain before the three day Christmas break will be a good test.

Following games against the Minnesota Wild, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers, the Senators will return from the break to play three more tough games in four nights. Ottawa will face their postseason rivals, the Boston Bruins, on December 27 and 30. The Bruins are one of the three teams the Senators need to pass if they want to be in the playoff conversation next spring.

Ryan Dzingel, Patrice Bergeron
Ryan Dzingel pursues Boston’s Patrice Bergeron (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

Fortunately for the Senators, the team is still very much in contention for a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division. The powerhouse Tampa Bay Lightning have a firm grasp on first, and the Toronto Maple Leafs have a good chance at second place despite their recent struggles and lack of games in hand. However, despite their horrible November, Ottawa has not played themselves out of contention for third place. The Senators have a tough climb ahead of them, but if their best players can capitalize on their recent success, the team will be on the right track.