BOSTON - Erik Karlsson has more assists than anybody in the NHL and leads all defencemen in points, but as clear as the nose on his face is one category in which he struggles.
It's in the department of growing facial hair.
That, however, hasn't stopped the 21-year-old Ottawa blueliner from once again taking part in Movember, a moustache-growing money-raiser in support of the fight against prostate cancer.
Karlsson, Zenon Konopka and Matt Carkner are the three Senators who have vowed not to drag a razor between their top lip and snout for a month. You can sponsor the players by going to the Movember Canada website.
"Karlsson's the darkhorse, for sure," said coach Paul MacLean ó the wearer of one of the greatest moustaches the NHL has ever seen ó when asked to assess which guy would sprout the best 'stache. "I think Konopka's probably got the inside track, but we need to make sure we have a proper difference in fertilizer."
Konopka says he's never really grown one before.
"A couple of times I tried it, then I'd even it up on each side, but by the time I'd be finished there's no moustache," said Konopka, who also revealed he has a friendly side bet with Karlsson. "If Karl has a thicker moustache than me, I give him my paycheque. If I've got a thicker moustache than him, he buys me a coffee. I thought it was a fair bet. I like my odds of beating him. I want Starbucks."
Karlsson sheepishly admits he's in over his head.
"I just have to give it some time and hopefully you can see it on TV, not only in close," he said on the first morning of the contest. "I'm just doing it for the cause. I don't look very good in it. My fiancee isn't very happy about it. But you've got to do what you've got to do.
"I'm going to have to be extra nice to her this month."
At least Karlsson looked great in October.
STARTS AND STOPS
For a guy whose two greatest skills are his passing and vision, it's surprising that Stephane Da Costa's assist on Nick Foligno's goal was the first of his now 17-game NHL career ... Jason Spezza looked to be doing most of the talking in a 30-second huddle of the power play near the centre-ice dot before Ottawa's first power play. The Senators didn't take advantage of that particular man advantage ... Tyler Seguin totally undressed Karlsson to have a clear path to the net, then passed the puck away ... Shawn Thornton was clapping after his first-period fight with Konopka. I thought the winner was everybody who likes a hockey fight ... Brian Lee, who was a healthy scratch 25 games in a row last season, has now had a seat in the press box for seven straight (and nine overall) under MacLean. "I've thought about it the last three games, about playing Brian Lee," said MacLean. "Somehow it's easier to change the fourth line. The defensive pairs have been playing so well. We just feel like we can't do it at this point." ... The Senators will have to do something when Carkner returns from knee surgery, probably around the middle of the month. "Big Country" skated for the first time Monday.
STUFF I THINK I THUNK
John says Boston is a hockey town, not a baseball town. On Monday night we visit Clarke's at Faneuil Hall, an Irish pub that has been around since 1974. I order a Samuel Adams Octoberfest. John, the bartender whose grandfather was the original owner of the bar, asks Marc Brassard what he'd like, just as the Le Droit sports editor is headed to the can. Over his shoulder as he walks away, Marc mumbles his order, as Marc does. "He says he wants the same thing," I tell John, who looked confused. "But he said it in French." Said John: "Okay, I was wondering. I thought he was speaking Tikkanese." The reference was to Esa Tikkanen, a mumbling winger who retired in 1999 after playing with seven NHL teams -- none of them the Bruins. Good recall, John ... On the topic of baseball, former Ottawa Lynx manager Pete Mackanin was the first candidate interviewed for Terry Francona's old job as skipper of the Red Sox. The meeting with Sox brass was described as an "all-day audition," after which the likable Mackanin was grilled for 25 minutes by local baseball media. Not sure we've ever heard of reporters getting 25 minutes with a candidate, or a daylong interview for a job. Are you sure it's a hockey town, John?
Before the game, Cheaps tried to pick the brain of a "smart player", Chris Kelly. "Claude (Julien) gonna match you up against Spezza tonight?" the former Senator was asked. "I don't think so. I don't know. I have no idea what Claude is going to do," said Kelly, who then couldn't resist taking a playful jab at his good pal. "Hopefully for Spetzie, I don't get matched up against him. I'm gonna run him all night." (Later, we told Spezza of Kelly's quip. "What?" asked No. 19, before laughing. "He won't even be on the ice at the same time!" Spezza then brought up a fight Kelly was recently in with Carolina's Brett Sutter and joked that he better give him some space. Kelly dummied the son of Darryl). On a more serious note, Kelly shrugged off the notion that knowing Spezza so well could be an advantage in throwing him off his game. "He's not a mental midget," said Kelly. "He's playing extremely well. I hate to give Spezz credit AT ALL, but he's playing well."
A few of the closest people to Foligno recognized his 24th birthday Monday. "I got a nice pair of boots from my wife," he said, clarifying that Janelle actually gave him some footwear, not the boot one of my buddies was given by his girlfriend on his birthday years ago. "Shoe boots, not like walking-in-the-tundra boots. Nice, classy, brown, leather." Daniel Alfredsson might have a concussion, but he thought of young Nick, too. "Alfie bought breakfast for me and the boys bought me dinner (in Boston)," beamed Foligno. "It was really good." Cool. Did anybody call you? "No, no, I didn't get a call," Nick said, feigning huge disappointment. "I'm actually kinda sad now, that I think about it. I didn't get called by anybody." It's not too late for a belated wish, folks. Give Nick a shout.