Maple Leafs-Senators Preview

The Associated Press

Erik Karlsson has already joined elite company. In the process, he's doing the same for the Ottawa Senators.

Karlsson looks to continue his torrid scoring pace and help the Senators create some breathing room atop the Northeast Division when they host the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

The 21-year-old Karlsson leads all NHL defensemen with 71 points, a franchise record that has also made him the youngest blue-liner with that many points since Hall of Famer Brian Leetch finished with 71 in 1988-89.

Karlsson has been particularly outstanding over the past 15 games, totaling 11 goals and 12 assists. He's helped Ottawa go 9-3-3 in that span, overtaking reigning Stanley Cup champion Boston by one point for the Northeast lead in the process.

The Senators (37-25-10) surpassed the Bruins on Friday, when Karlsson assisted on a goal by Filip Kuba with 1:53 left in overtime to give Ottawa a 2-1 home win over Montreal.

"It means a lot of hard work by all those guys across the hallway," coach Paul MacLean said of his players. "They've worked real hard and they've believed in themselves for a long time now and I think the consistency of their effort on a daily basis is being rewarded with the success the team is having. But, we've got 10 games left to play and we have lots of work to do."

Karlsson is likely to have a major say in whether Ottawa wins its first division title since 2005-06. He has eight points in his last nine meetings with Toronto (31-32-8), but has failed to register a point in the last two.

The Senators failed to convert any of their 49 shots on goal in the most recent matchup with the Maple Leafs on Feb. 4, falling 5-0 at Scotiabank Place to end their three-game winning streak in the season series. They've won three of five overall versus Toronto in 2011-12.

Ottawa center Colin Greening has three goals and one assist in his last five games. He also scored in each of the first two meetings this season with Toronto, but has gone without a point in the last three.

While Ottawa is surging, Toronto is mired in a 3-13-2 stretch that has dropped it into 12th place and made it likely the club will extend its six-season playoff drought.

The Leafs are eight points behind eighth-place Washington in the Eastern Conference with 11 games remaining.

Toronto slightly improved its dim chances at a playoff berth Thursday, winning 3-1 at Tampa Bay.

"It's only one game. We'll take that and enjoy the game," said coach Randy Carlyle, who is 2-4-1 since replacing the fired Ron Wilson earlier this month. "That's what the game is supposed to be. It's still a game; it's work, but it is a game. It's a lot more fun when you win."

Carlyle might opt to give James Reimer a third consecutive start after he made 34 saves against the Lightning to end a personal five-game slide, during which he compiled a 4.29 goals-against average.

Reimer is 4-1-1 with a 1.82 GAA and two shutouts in six career meetings with the Senators, including a dazzling 49-save shutout in the Feb. 4 victory.

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