Taking the Next Step
NEW YORK--Back in September, the Ottawa Senators wouldn't have guessed they had a Norris Trophy candidate in their midst.
"No," said head coach Paul MacLean today when asked about Erik Karlsson's Norris nomination alongside more experienced veterans Zdeno Chara and Shea Weber. "I just knew he could skate real good."
Well, 87 regular season and playoff games later, Karlsson is a lot more than a great skater. But the third-year NHLer is also finding out in this first-round series against the New York Rangers than there's another step yet to take and a rather substantial difference between what's available to a highly-skilled, puck-moving defenceman in the regular season and what's available in the playoffs.
Teams can game plan against such a defenceman, and clearly the Rangers have plotted to take Karlsson's speed and creativity from the back end away from the Senators, and done so with some success.
Maybe that's why at the conclusion of Game 6 Karlsson helicoptered his stick down the ice and into the end glass, perhaps echoing the frustration of captain and countryman Daniel Alfredsson. For the Senators to advance to the next round, some production from Karlsson could be a crucial contribution.
"I can be better," said Karlsson today just hours before Game 7 against the Rangers. "Be a little more patient with the puck. Just play my game."
After notching 78 points during the regular season to lead all NHL defencemen, Karlsson has been all but shut down by the Rangers. He has points in only one of the six games, and none in the last four. After getting 261 shots on the enemy goal during the regular season, Karlsson is actually averaging more pucks to the net in this series with 31 shots in all, but not with the same effectiveness.
"They've done a good job blocking shots and making it hard for us," said Karlsson, who will skate in only his 13th career playoff game tonight. "Every game is so different. It's all about adapting."
Becoming a Norris Trophy finalist after a minus-30 season a year ago is a remarkable achievement for the young defenceman.
"I got very happy when I heard," he said. "It's not anything I imagined would happen this year or anytime soon."