Sens will welcome Matt ... soon
Don Brennan, QMI Agency
|Senators defenceman Matt Carkner sweated it out at practice Tuesday, but with no set return date to the team's lineup. (DARREN BROWN, QMI Agency)
The buildup of frustration with missing the season’s first 21 games — and counting — has not spoiled Matt Carkner’s sense of humour, at least.
Asked about Sidney Crosby’s four-point explosion back on to the scene Monday, the Senators’ toughest defenceman shrugged.
“That’s easy. I can get two and two, no problem,” said Carkner, who has finally been cleared for contact in his rehab from training camp knee surgery. “We’re talking two hits, two turnovers. We’ll figure it out.”
Also yet to be determined is the exact date of Carkner’s return. Next guy to ask him the “timetable” is liable to get a shot in the nose. Not that Carkner doesn’t want to give an answer. He just can’t.
“I’ll come back and play for sure some time this year,” he said with a touch of sarcasm. “I’m working hard at it. It’s been a long process, we’re still making steps forward.
“We’re being cautious, and really, really taking our time, letting it heal.”
Last year, Carkner wasn’t so careful. For a month and a half, he played with a bum knee, sometimes getting it drained right before a game. His effectiveness dwindled.
“It’s the physical part right now that I’m working on,” said Carkner. “That’s the last thing to come. Right now, the skating is coming pretty well. I want to be 100% comfortable.
“Today we were doing a little bit of body contact with (assistant coach) Luke (Richardson) at the end. I’m easing in to all of that. I want to be physical out there. Kind of the last step we’re taking now.”
Coach Paul MacLean said Carkner is going to get some time to be a “full participant” in practice now.
“I would say within the next two weeks, if not before,” MacLean said of Carkner’s expected back date. “We want to make sure everything is in good shape with him and he’s ready to go. We’re at Game 21 ... it takes a little bit to get caught up. We want to make sure he’s ready to go before we get him in there.”
The Senators will surely have to make a move on an overcrowded blue line when Carkner is ready to go. Rookie David Rundblad has been a healthy scratch for four games, since playing in the team’s last regulation time loss Nov. 11 in Buffalo. He’s been replaced by Brian Lee.
”The biggest part for that is Rundblad’s play without the puck struggled,” said MacLean. “Brian Lee went in and played real well, and the team played well. The team continued to win, and Brian Lee’s play didn’t go down. It elevated. He played the way he needed to play, and over this last stretch of the time, Brian Lee has been a better player, so he was in the lineup. And for those two guys, that’s the way it’s going to be.”
Meanwhile, Carkner brings a dimension the Senators require.
“Toe drags and no-look backhand passes are the two things I’m really working on,” he said. “Slowly but surely, I’m making 50-foot backhand saucers back door, so that’s the game plan to get me back on the PP.”
Yes, they need his toughness.
G Craig Anderson practised Tuesday and should be ready to play when the Senators visit Pittsburgh on Black Friday. Anderson missed Sunday’s game in Vancouver with a stiff neck that could have been brought upon by the way he had slept. “Just didn’t feel like I was anywhere near the place I wanted to be, to play,” he said. “I had a hard time looking over my shoulder. Just a lot of stiffness. We’ve been on the road a long time, with all the travel and the different bedrooms and pillows and whatnot. Just one of those things where you wake up and things just aren’t right. Just didn’t get any better.” ... RW Chris Neil was on the treadmill Tuesday and is expected to practise with the Senators Wednesday at the Canadian International Hockey Academy Arena in Rockland. He has missed the last five games with a sprained ankle ... At 10-9-1, the Senators are losing their ability to surprise opponents. “Since we were picked to be 15th (in the conference) I suppose we have snuck up on a couple of teams, but that’s not going to last forever either,” said MacLean. “We’re just trying to gain some respect around the league and we believe at this point we’re getting that a little bit at a time.” Added captain Daniel Alfredsson: “I don’t know if people knew what to expect from us. But I think by now everybody has seen the way we can play, and I don’t think anybody’s going to take us lightly. I think they know we’re a team that’s going to work hard for 60 minutes, We’re not going to give anybody anything easy. That’s kind of what we want them to think.”