TORONTO – Entering his seventh NHL season, Erik Karlsson already has two Norris trophies to this credit, including last season’s award for being the NHL’s best defenseman. He’s inspected them thoroughly for any strings attached or caveats, and has yet to find one, despite some critics continuing to claim he has gaping holes in his defensive game that render him unworthy of such accolades.
Karlsson believes some of them actually haven’t seen him play since his rookie season.
“Yeah, that’s probably how it is in a lot of cases,” he said, prior to Ottawa Senators camp. “It doesn’t bother me as much. I don’t care what they say about it.”
Karlsson knows that no one is confusing him with Zdeno Chara when it comes to play in his own end, but believes being the best offensive defenseman in the NHL naturally means the defensive side is going to be underappreciated or maligned.
“Defense has always been the weakest part of my game. It’s something I have to pay attention to. But I never thought of myself as a poor defenseman. It’s just that my other side has gotten so much attention,” he said.
“But the game has changed a lot from when I entered the league. You have to play defense and do the little things to be successful. It’s not a high scoring game like it used to be. It’s gone down a lot. And defense has a lot to do with that.”
Karlsson’s grown as a defender over time, out of necessity. While he still uses his speed to make up for miscues, he said he can’t do it nearly as much as he used to.
“If you’re a good skater, you can take more chances. You can cover faster. But now everyone is skating so well that you can’t really do the same things anymore,” he said. “And I play so many minutes that I’m not going to have the same energy every night now that I’m older.”
Yes, that creaking old 25-year-old veteran Erik Karlsson, playing over 27 minutes a night and making it look like he could play 37. In nine of the Senators’ last 22 games, Karlsson skated over 29 minutes.
It’s no coincidence that the Sens’ insane 24-4-4 roll that miraculously earned them a playoff spot last season coincided with Karlsson playing some of this best hockey.
“It was a lot of fun. We didn’t stop to think would could happen. We just went out West – that’s where I think it started – and played those teams. We took seven out of eight points,” he said. “We were eliminated by Montreal, but we could look back and say ‘wow, that was something really special.’ But we were all really tired at that time.”
Karlsson said it was easy to forget that fatigue when you’re swept up in an epic winning streak.
‘When you feel good about yourself, and everyone feels the same way, it’s a big advantage at the start of every game. If something doesn’t go your way, you don’t get down. You keep going and you still think you can win the game, and you usually do,” he said.
“It was pretty good. But hopefully it’s something that we don’t need to happen again.”
And by that, Karlsson of course means a streak that has fans throwing food on the ice in honor of a sensational goaltender, and then watching one of his teammates eat a hamburger off the sweat, snot and whatever the hell else is on there ice.
Would Karlsson ever eat celebratory food off the rink?
“Maybe if they throw a pizza,” he said. “In a box.”
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