Carkner takes tough road back

Ottawa Senators' Matt Carkner catches his breath after a hard skate during team practice at the...

Ottawa Senators' Matt Carkner catches his breath after a hard skate during team practice at the Bell Sensplex Tuesday, November 22, 2011. (DARREN BROWN/QMI Agency)

BRUCE GARRIOCH, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:51 PM ET

As if Matt Carkner needed a reminder.

When the Senators enforcer returns Saturday at Scotiabank Place vs. the Vancouver Canucks — his first regular-season game since Feb. 26 — it will be exactly 366 days since he knocked out Derek Boogaard.

It was the last punch the New York Rangers enforcer took before his death last summer. Boogaard has been in the news lately because doctors discovered he had a brain injury, but Carkner has moved on.

“I don’t really want to say anything about it. It’s just sad that it happened,” said Carkner. “I don’t think fighting has anything to do with (the death). It’s other things outside of hockey that he was fighting. It’s sad to see that happen.

“A lot of people do have troubles with that, so hopefully that raises awareness for that kind of thing.”

The last nine months have been difficult for Carkner.

His season ended early last year because he needed knee surgery. But, after pushing himself into training to hard to get back, doctors were forced to make more repairs in October.

This time, the Senators and Carkner have been extra cautious about making sure he doesn’t come back before he’s ready. The timing is certainly good. Sergei Gonchar left Thursday’s 5-4 shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils with an upper-body injury.

There has been a lot of fretting in the local media as to what the Senators were going to do once they had eight healthy defencemen. GM Bryan Murray won’t have to worry about that for a while because Filip Kuba is sidelined for a month with a shoulder injury and Gonchar is out indefinitely

Gonchar’s injury will updated Saturday by coach Paul MacLean, but he appeared to fall awkwardly into the boards after getting pulled down by Mattias Tedenby. The Senators are fortunate they’ve got Carkner ready to step in after he did a conditioning stint in Binghamton.

“It’s great. We’ve seen how hard he’s worked to get back,” said captain Daniel Alfredsson. “You can see how after being down in Binghamton and playing a few games, he looks like he has a lot more energy. He can see the light at the end of the tunnel. He’s a character guy who is going to be helpful.”

Not only will Carkner add another element of toughness to a lineup that already boasts Zenon Konopka and Chris Neil, he should be able to give some help to the club’s penalty-killing units. While the Senators have improved in that, they’re still ranked in the league’s bottom third.

“He brings physicality for sure ... and good size,” said coach Paul MacLean.

“He’s a defensive-type defenceman, but he’s effective and he’s a good penalty killer. He’s competitive we could use and his size.”

Carkner said he’s happy to be back.

“It’s a coach’s decision to get me back in there, but coming off these games (in Binghamton) I feel confident and excited to get back into the lineup,” said Carkner.

“I’m a little different than some of the guys on the team right now. I’m a big physical guy who can help out the team if guys are taking liberties. That’s my game. It always has been. I’m a hard worker and I like to keep things simple.”


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