Sens need unwelcoming Matt

The Ottawa Senators could use a dose of Matt Carkner in their lineup on Saturday against the...

The Ottawa Senators could use a dose of Matt Carkner in their lineup on Saturday against the Rangers. (Tony Caldwell/QMI Agency)

Don Brennan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:02 PM ET

 It was easily the longest pause in Paul MacLean’s still-young career as coach of the Senators.

 

The question, at Madison Square Garden during Friday’s between-games availability:

What did you think of Erik Karlsson’s penalty (in Game 1) on Brian Boyle?

The answer, after MacLean’s quick stammer and exactly seven steamboats:

“I don’t have an opinion on that.”

Yes you do, another reporter said to him.

“No I don’t,” insisted MacLean.

Of course he does.

MacLean thinks it was a joke. A crap call. Boyle, a 6-foot-7, 244-pound centre, had wrapped one arm around the head of Karlsson, Ottawa’s 6-foot, 180-pound VVP (very valuable player) and proceeded to punch him with his free fist about a half-dozen times. Karlsson held on and (wisely) didn’t even try to retaliate.

When the two players were separated, both were punished equally with two-minute minors for roughing.

What exactly did Karlsson rough? Ottawa deserved another power play, whatever good that would have done.

Ridiculous.

In MacLean’s shoes, there’s no way Rangers coach John Tortorella would have held back. He would have lost his mind, even a day later. Same with Senators GM Bryan Murray, if he was still the coach. He would have stuck up for Karlsson well after the fact. He might have gone a little overboard, calling out referees Dan O’Hallaran and Tom Kowal, but he would have made his point, loud and clear, and it would have been an effective one.

MacLean fumbled the ball. In his first playoff game as an NHL bench boss, he was outcoached. The day after, he didn’t bounce back strong enough. But he’ll learn.

He wouldn’t have been fined for expressing his displeasure, if it was done the right way. The next crew wouldn’t have made him pay the way he had to pay after telling reporters Dan O’Rourke had called Karlsson a diver a few months back.

It’s playoff time. MacLean has to make it clear that, even as a rookie coach, he won’t be pushed around. Neither will his young team.

Further to that end, he needs to dress Matt Carkner in Game 2.

Boyle might not have been so quick to knuckle Karlsson if it meant he had to answer to the NHL’s undisputed heavyweight champ. Carkner should have played Thursday instead of Matt Gilroy, who brings very little to the dance.

Karlsson needs the protection, and nobody other than Carkner is able to settle things face-to-face with Boyle.

Asked if he was going to insert Carkner into Saturday’s game, Maclean said: “We’re considering everybody at this point.”

He did acknowledge the Senators have to get tougher against the Rangers.

“I think the physical side of the game needs to improve,” he said. “I think we welcome that.”

The Senators certainly do need to start digging in their heels at this time of year. Since defeating the Sabres in the 2007 Eastern Conference final, their record in the post-season is an embarrassing 3-13.

They have officially become playoff patsies.

Of course, it’s probably wrong to clump the Colin Greenings and Erik Condras with the Dany Heatleys and Alex Kovalevs.

“It’s really year-to-year,” said Jason Spezza. “The feeling around the dressing room is totally different than it was those years. You learn from those things and you forget about them. I don’t think it has a carryover effect. It’s more of how the feeling in our room is right now. I’d say we are in pretty good spirits.”

Why? For one thing, only two teams were able to win more often when trailing after two periods than the Senators this season.

“We feel like we’ve been a team that’s been able to come from behind all year,” said Spezza. “We might play a great game (Saturday) and lose the game. We’re still going to keep fighting because that’s the type of team we are. But we hope to come out of here and get the split, put some pressure on them.”

Spezza sees guys like Jared Cowen and Zack Smith developing into strong playoff performers. Both play hard and tough.

He also thinks MacLean’s system is a winner.

“I think Paul tries to get us to play a game that correlates well to playoff hockey,” said Spezza. “We like to play in straight lines. We like to get pucks deep. We have some guys that like to bang the body a lot. I think that’s why we feel comfortable playing playoff games and don’t feel like you have to change too much.

“Our foundation we’ve been building in trying to grow as a team is how we want to play in the playoffs. It’s not like we have to change the style of play. In years past, we were a little more run and gun, scored a lot of goals. You’re not going to have a lot of high-scoring games in playoffs. We’re used to playing tight games, we feel pretty comfortable in those games.”

Now they’ve just got to get playoff tougher. The coach and his players.

don.brennan@sunmedia.ca 


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