Karlsson not so Swede on debut

BRUCE GARRIOCH, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:51 AM ET

Erik Karlsson wouldn't call his NHL debut memorable.

In fact, he'd almost like to forget it.

“I’m glad it’s over,” the Senators rookie defenceman said yesterday. “It could have gone worse, but it could have gone better. It’s good that it’s over and I’m just going to focus on the next game.”

While fans can’t expect a 19-year-old to step into the lineup and become the team’s star blueliner, Karlsson knows the pressure to produce is high.

The Senators’ 2008 first-round pick played with Frolunda in the Swedish Elite League last season, but he found out quickly that the pace in the NHL is a lot different once he hit the ice on Saturday night against the Rangers in New York.

His most glaring error was on New York’s second goal. Karlsson tried to cut off a pass to Brandon Dubinsky, missed and couldn’t stop Dubinsky as he skated in and beat Ottawa goalie Pascal Leclaire over the shoulder.

“It was tough. There’s some situations you aren’t comfortable in and you don’t know what to do. It’s hard when you don’t know what to do and everybody is so far. You have to make good decisions faster. That’s the thing I need (to learn),” said Karlsson.

“I knew that I was going to have to make a lot of improvement for the (regular) season. Now, I really know what I can expect. It’s good. Now, I think I can be more focused for the next game and do a better job there. This is way different, but I’ll know in the next game a little bit more about what’s going to happen. I think I will be more comfortable (tomorrow) than maybe I was (Saturday).”

The Senators will treat Karlsson with kid gloves this season.

“You have to make sure that he’s improving his game every step of the way and that’s probably something we’re going (evaluate) every 10 games or so,” said Senators assistant GM Tim Murray. “We, as a whole, think he had a great camp and we were really pleased with his exhibition games.

“I didn’t see the giveaways. In 1-on-1 battles, there’s going to be the issues that there are for 80% of the defencemen in the league. We always talk in the extremes. People say, ‘Well, he won’t be able to handle (Bruins brute Milan) Lucic.’ Well, 80% of the defencemen can’t handle Lucic.

“It will be the grind of the league that’s new to him. That’s why you have to take it in steps and judge him on that. Frolunda was essentially a weekend schedule and not that tough. This is a grind, you’re playing every second night. He’ll have to really be prepared.”

Karlsson said he has to be more selective when he takes chances.

“I have to make good decisions. I had a few bad decisions (against New York), but I also think I had a few good ones, so I’ve just got to take away the bad decisions” said Karlsson.

Off the glass

Leclaire, who hadn’t played a regular-season game since Dec. 10, said he was pleased with his first start. “I felt fine. I felt 100%,” said Leclaire. “All the way through camp, I made it to the shape I wanted to be in. I felt good. I felt normal, like the past few years. I just have to start from there.” ... After Leafs G Vesa Toskala was pulled in Saturday’s 6-4 loss to Washington, the Senators can expect to see G Jonas “The Monster” Gustavsson get the start when they pay Toronto a visit tomorrow night. Leafs coach Ron Wilson won’t name his starter until today.

bruce.garrioch@sunmedia.ca


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