Carkner showing he belongs in NHL

DON BRENNAN, Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:15 AM ET

TORONTO — Only 96.9% of those voting on hockeyfights.com gave Colton Orr the nod in a scrap with Matt Carkner at Scotiabank Place last month.

The other 3.1% must have been from Winchester. And they weren’t being honest.

“He caught me with that right, and I got off balance there, and he took me to the ground,” the Senators defenceman recalled Sunday, a day before the Senators' meeting with Orr and the Leafs in Toronto Monday night. “But yeah definitely, he got the upper hand on me in that one, so I’m looking forward to seeing what happens this time.”

That’s right. Carkner is no Apollo Creed. He WANTS a rematch.

“For sure, I don’t want to let him think that he owns me,” the 29-year-old Senators rookie said of Orr, who gives Toronto one of the top heavyweights in a league that has no one who comes out on top all the time. “I gotta definitely come back and be ready for that. Maybe it’s not going to happen, maybe he’s not up for it or injured, or you never know what’s going to happen. 

“But my focus is to play the game, be ready to play, battle and help my teammates out. If the other part of it happens, that’s great.”

Carkner, who has emerged as another of the contenders for the belt, has fought 11 times, second-most to Tampa Bay’s Zenon Konopka and his 13.

The difference between the Winchester-bred defenceman and the other frequent fighters: Carkner is proving himself to also be a player at this level. A 6-foot-4, 230-lb. career minor leaguer who surprised most by making the Senators out of camp, many thought “Big Country” would be in and out of the lineup, and well protected from lining up against top-six forwards when he did play.

Instead, Carkner has averaged 18:24 a game, and along with being a solid penalty killer, his plus-3 is bettered only by the ratings of Nick Foligno (plus-10), Mike Fisher (plus-7) and Peter Regin (plus-5).

“Overall, he’s surpassed everyone’s expectations,” said coach Cory Clouston. “I think the last couple of games, he has tried to create something that’s not there. He’s turned the puck over a few too many times. Sometimes he just wants to do too much. He wants to be the difference, he wants the team to win so badly. If he gets back a little bit to simplifying his game, he’ll be much more effective, the way he was for most of the season.”

Carkner is now told to pick his spots for fighting. The Senators him sitting five with a guy who plays only a handful of shifts a night. He’s needed on the ice.

“We talk to him before the game, and throughout the game, and let him know when he’s got the green light, and when he’s got to maybe back off and take a number,” said Clouston. “He knows if there’s a situation he needs to be there, he’s going to be there.”

Will he have the green light to fight Orr tonight?

“We’ll see,” said Clouston. “The time of the game and whatnot will dictate that.”

Meanwhile, it really is the season to be jolly for Carkner, who spent last Christmas in Binghamton.

“We had my wife’s family come down, and there was about 14 of us in our little house there,” he said. We just had a big bash. It was awesome.

“(But) it’s definitely going to be a little more interesting this year, being home around family. We’re actually having the same crew come down to my Carp home, then I actually get to spend a Christmas with my family for once, which we haven’t done for a few years.”

To watch his eyes light up these days, you know he’s already received the best gift of all — regular NHL employment. That it’s with his hometown team is a bonus.

“It’s awesome. I’m loving every second of it,” he said. “Even on the bad days, when I’m not playing the greatest, it’s still amazing to be here and be a part of the team.”

But with as hard as he fought to get here, he’s not going to stop now. And to be considered the toughest, meanest hombre in the NHL would mean a lot to him.

“Geez, that would be impressive,” said Carkner. “But to say that there’s ever going to be one dominating guy who can beat everyone ... any given day a guy can get the best of you. My family, my mother and dad, they know that’s part of my game and they love to see when I do well. They like to know that I’m a tough guy. So definitely, it’s been awesome being able to fight at this level.”

This 'n' that

Toronto D Luke Schenn was a healthy scratch for the first time in his career Saturday night. The 20-year-old has been guilty of turnovers and, most recently, not playing physically enough. It’s unlikely he’ll get back into the lineup Monday night ... Leafs’ Phil Kessel picked up his first power play goal of the season Saturday, and in doing so ended a season-high four-game goal-less streak ... Vesa Toskala is re-establishing himself as the Leafs No. 1 goalie. He has played the last four games and won three of them ...  The Leafs have won three home games in a row for the first time since January 2008 ... Senators RW Chris Neil skated Sunday and remains on target to return before Christmas. “A lot of it just depends on how each day he responds,” said Clouston. “Each day he’s pushed a little harder, so the next morning you see how he responds. So far it's been really good.”


Videos

Photos