OTTAWA - The month of December has certainly had its peaks — sometimes right after a visit to a valley — for Senators defenceman Matt Carkner.
He scored his first goal of the season Dec. 17, the day after missing a game with the leg gash he suffered in an accident at practice.
He also had an ass-ist on a late third-period, streak-extending goal by Sidney Crosby, the game after sitting one out as a healthy scratch.
What’s with the hypen, you say?
Well, Crosby picked up a point for the 24th consecutive game at Scotiabank Place last Sunday when his backhand shot was stopped by Senators goalie Brian Elliott, but then richocheted into the net off Carkner.
“All I know is in the replay I saw it hit this cheek here, the left cheek, and slide into the back post,” an animated Carkner said Wednesday morning. “He didn’t thank me, which I was pretty upset about. I was hoping to get a stick or something.
“Elliott played a great game. It would have been nice for him to get a shutout. I guess it’s a good story for Crosby, and his streak. But instead of off my ass and in, off my ass and out would have been a lot better.”
Carkner was also given a new nickname during the Christmas season by teammate Chris Neil.
“Face Smasher,” Neil chirped from across the dressing room. “Like in that ant smasher game.”
Thems some ants Carkner has been pounding.
In the Pittsburgh game, he bloodied up Eric Godard but good. The hemoglobin was flowing from Godard’s nose, but when he emerged from the trainer’s room a period later, it was evident the Penguins winger had other problems. Like, the swelling was such that he could barely see out of his left eye.
Godard, one of the NHL’s toughest players, challenged Carkner again, but either it was to impress HBO viewers (he was miked up for the popular documentary 24/7) or he had lost some marbles. Fighting Carkner while being able to see out of only one eye would have been not just stupid, but also very dangerous.
Anyway, the decision over Godard should be considered Carkner’s first title defence. He claimed the heavyweight championship of the NHL Dec. 9 at Scotiabank Place.
In boxing, if you beat the best you are recognized as the best with the presentation of a belt. Why should it be any different in hockey?
Sun Media’s annual poll, of which voting was done by players, declared New York Rangers giant Derek Boogaard a landslide winner as the league’s No. 1 fighter. Few would have disagreed with the choice. But on Dec. 9, Carkner face-smashed Boogaard but good. After the game, Rangers coach John Tortorella said he thought Boogaard had a broken nose. Must be a little more to it than that, as Boogaard has not played since.
For those who dispute Carkner is the new champ, fine. But you can’t deny that Carkner is the closest the Senators have to the best anything in the league.
The anything, in this case, is a heavyweight fighter.
“You always have to be confident, but you have to have a little fear in you, too, so you’re sharp,” Carkner said of his approach to scrapping. “If you get too cocky and too loose, that’s when you get knocked out, that’s when you get hurt. For me, I always respect my opponent. I try and make sure I’m doing what I have to do, just to put my best foot forward and do the best I can in the fight.
“There are so many tough guys in this league, you’re going to get beat once in a while. You just have to have make sure you respect everyone you fight.”
Interesting ... hey, would you look at what’s coming around the corner. It’s the Toronto Maple Leafs bus. Hey, that’s right, Colton Orr and his friends are here Saturday night to ring in the New Year.
The Face Smasher needs to dispose of his arch-enemy to solidify his ranking.
THINGS I THINK I THINK
That minus-20 of Sergei Gonchar’s, as the weatherman might say, “feels like” a minus-30. Must be the windchill ... Filip Kuba celebrated his 34th birthday Wednesday. A good present would have been a new stick. He smashed the one he started the game with over the crossbar after Tuomo Ruutu easily pushed him away from the puck while setting up Carolina’s second goal ... The Senators’ best play in the first period might have been the hustle Zack Smith showed in stealing the puck from Chad LaRose in a defensive zone battle along the boards. That speaks well of Smith, not so much for the Senators ... Chris Phillips has a great wife. “A 3-D TV,” Phillips said when asked about the best Christmas gift he received, from the lovely Erin. “It’s really good.” At least from what he’s seen so far. One movie — Avatar. “That’s going to be a tough one to beat,” said Phillips ... Early in the day, coach Cory Clouston was saying the improved play of Erik Karlsson has not been restricted to the offensive zone. Karlsson’s blue-line partner, Phillips, agreed. “He’s not a liability in our own zone,” Phillips said of Karlsson, who leads the team in scoring. “It’s not like I have to have my guy and see who his guy is too, and back him up. He’s done a great job of playing strong, playing smart in our own zone. And that’s a big reason why it’s working out. He’s able to play both ends of the ice.”
PLANES AND AUTOMOBILES
To replace injured veterans Joni Pitkanen and Jussi Jokinen, the Hurricanes recalled a couple of players with Ottawa ties — former 67’s defenceman Bryan Rodney and Cumberland Grad alum Jon Matsumoto, who was born and bred in the nation’s capital. What a journey those two had in getting to Scotiabank Place in time for the game. “We were in Norfolk, Va., on a road trip,” Matsumoto said before the opening puck drop. “We had a real long night. Found out, me and Rods had to grab a rental car, drive to Richmond, Va., and spend the night at the airport, wake up, fly to Chicago, then fly to Ottawa.” Don’t misunderstand. He doesn’t mean they spent Tuesday night at an airport hotel. He means the airport. In those really comfortable airport chairs. “Tried to, but didn’t really get too much sleep,” said Matsumoto. “Didn’t think it would be quite like this when I played my first game in Ottawa, when you’re growing up here.” Matsumoto, a third-round pick of the Flyers in 2006, admits he was a Senators fan growing up and had fond memories of Scotiabank Place. “I got to see Game 1 of the 2003 Eastern Conference final,” he said of the home team’s victory on a Shaun Van Allen overtime goal. “That was probably my favourite moment here. It was pretty awesome when they went to the finals. I don’t know if I was drafted by Philly then or not ... I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that ... but it was pretty cool.”
OVER TO MIKE?
“Hi, fellas, long time no see,” goalie Mike Brodeur said to reporters as he walked into Scotiabank Place, with a security guard carrying his sticks, a couple of hours before game time. Brodeur, of course, has been back and forth to Binghamton numerous times this month while Pascal Leclaire tries to recover from a suspected groin injury. With Brian Elliott looking rather shaky Wednesday, the Senators should give Brodeur the start Friday in Columbus. He helped them start a long winning streak last season, maybe he can do it again.