Entering the All-Star break with 39 points in his first 47 games this season, Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson is once again one of the NHL’s top scoring defensemen (currently second behind only Brent Burns).
Seeing him at the top of the defensemen leaderboard once again, and seeing him on track to record another 65-point season, might make it a little surprising to learn that it has been 20 games, dating all the way back to Dec. 7, since he last scored a goal. That makes this the second longest goal-scoring drought of his career following a 29-game drought that took place in the middle of his rookie season when he was still only 19 years old.
That slump currently has him on pace for one of the lowest goal totals (12) of his career after scoring at least 16 in four of the past five, including a couple of 20-goal campaigns.
On Saturday, Karlsson talked about his recent slump (via the Ottawa Citizen) and how it does not really concern him at the moment because the team is continuing to win hockey games.
“I’ve been around long enough to know things like this are going to happen,” Karlsson said. “I haven’t been needing to score that many goals in order for us to win. At the end of the day, that’s the thing you can’t take away from it. Still trying out there, but we’ve been playing good hockey. Guys have been stepping up. We’ve been getting a lot of creativity and goal scoring from different guys. Obviously that’s huge for us.”
The Senators have continued to win, owning a 10-6-4 record during his drought to help the team remain in the top three of the Atlantic Division while still having multiple games in hand on the teams that are chasing them for a playoff spot (along with a pretty decent cushion in terms of points).
But Karlsson is also right when he says “things like this are going to happen.”
While 20 games without a goal might be one of the longer droughts of his career, he has gone at least 10 games without a goal in every season of his career with the lone exception being the aforementioned 2012-13 season that was shortened by the NHL lockout and an injury. Seven previous times he went more than 14 games in a row without goal, including two different stretches (14 and 18 games) last season when he put together one of the the most dominant offensive seasons in the history of the league for a defenseman. Even the best forwards in the NHL only score in 30 to 40 percent of their games. The only two players in the NHL that have scored at least one goal in more than 40 percent of their games since the start of the 2015-16 season are Alex Ovechkin (46 percent) and Sidney Crosby (41 percent). When even the best forwards are only scoring a goal in a third of their games that leaves a lot of open space for extend goal-less streaks.
What separates the elite players like Karlsson from everybody else is their ability to not only score goals in bunches during the hot streaks that can carry a team, but to also impact play when they are not putting the puck in the net. Even without a goal in 20 games Karlsson still has 12 helpers during that stretch and remains not only the second leading scoring defenseman in hockey, but is also still the leading scorer on the Senators.
He is still the player that drives their offense.
If his past goal droughts are any indication he is going to bust out of this one soon, and when he does, he is probably going to have a surge that helps balance it out. Following his 14-game drought last season he went for five goals in the next five games and then scored two goals in three games following the 18-game drought. He scored five goals in seven games following a 15-game drought in 2014-15.