Karlsson growing up fast

DON BRENNAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

Few would have imagined this back in November, or even December.

There were clear indications that Erik Karlsson was going to become a good player for the Senators one day, but by Hockey Day in Canada? Not likely. He still had too much to learn.

Yet there was Karlsson Saturday, against the Montreal Canadiens, one of only two Senators to play as many as 29 shifts and the only Senator to see as much as 24:51 of ice time.

Karlsson was used that much because, on this day, he very well might have been the best player in the game.

In a 3-2 OT win that set a franchise record as the ninth victory in a row, Karlsson’s plus-2 performance included two assists and a significant contribution on the winning goal. In a 3-on-3 situation, he took the puck from behind his net and headed up ice slowly, surveying his options, then hit Mike Fisher with a long, true pass at the Habs blue line. Fisher fended off no less a defender than Andrei Markov before sending home happy the majority from those making up the largest Scotiabank Place crowd of the season.

Karlsson, who also made a couple of nice defensive plays inside the Ottawa blueline and survived Benoit Pouliot’s attempt to put him through the boards, has now tied together a string of solid showings that make you forget he’ll still be a teenager for another four months.

“He’s been unbelievable,” said Fisher, who raved about the Swedish rookie’s work. “He’s competing, he’s taking hits, his speed has really improved. And man, there’s not too many guys that can handle the puck like he can.

“He’s come a long way, he’s really improved. He’s been great for us.”

The Senators will be looking for No. 10 in a row and resuming their pursuit of first in the division Wednesday, when they visit the Northeast-leading Sabres in Buffalo. That they are suddenly 10 points from where about eight teams are fighting for the last two playoff spots can be attributed to a number of factors, such as improved goaltending, a commitment to the system, and the emergence of young players who stepped up their play during a rash of injuries.

Karlsson has been a plus-6 in the last four games and a plus-8 in the last seven. Usually paired with veteran Filip Kuba, he was promoted to the first pairing, alongside Chris Phillips, when Anton Volchenkov had to sit out the Jan. 25 visit to Boston.

He played more than 22 minutes, including the game’s 60th, and was a plus-1 in the 2-1 victory.

As an offensive-minded rookie defenceman, being sent out to protect a lead in the final ticks says something about the confidence that’s been earned from a coaching staff that is also trying to expedite his development.

“Obviously that feels really good,” Karlsson said of the role he’s been playing. “I feel good out there, the whole team feels good. We’re playing really good right now and it’s fun to be a part of that.”

After having a day off Sunday, the Senators will return to practice Monday to prepare for the Sabres, a team they are 3-0 against so far this season. They presently trail Buffalo by five points, with the Sabres having three games in hand.

Buffalo native Nick Foligno won’t get a chance to return home after suffering a broken leg Saturday. He’s expected to miss 6-8 weeks.

As well as Foligno has been playing, the Senators shouldn’t skip a beat. Ryan Shannon will likely be elevated to take Foligno’s left wing spot alongside Mike Fisher and Alex Kovalev, with Jesse Winchester expected to be activated for the vacant roster spot.

“We’re on a good roll, we’re feeling great as a team and we’re playing well at the right time,” said Fisher. “We’ve just got to make sure we’re staying on the gas pedal.”

Red-eyed Fish?

Fisher, after strolling the red carpet at the Grammys in Los Angeles alongside fiancee Carrie Underwood, might be a little red-eyed Monday morning if he had to take a red-eye to get back for practice.


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