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As Karlsson returns to Ottawa, don’t believe the anti-hype

When a star player returns to a team after a controversial trade, you’re bound to scold your hands on some hot takes. Knee-jerk reactions only get more dramatic if there are easy – though not necessarily profound – ways to criticize that player.

So, it’s no surprise that people are jumping to some dopey conclusions as Erik Karlsson returns to Ottawa to face the Senators as a member of the San Jose Sharks on Saturday afternoon.

You see, many are latching on to Karlsson’s relatively modest offensive numbers, as the splendid Swede currently has two goals and 15 points in 26 games. Tying the likes of Zach Werenski and Drew Doughty for 15th place in scoring among defensemen, obviously, is unacceptable.

Speaking of Doughty, Postmedia’s Michael Traikos trotted out an … interesting take in comparing the two defensemen in mid-November:

In nine seasons with the Senators, Karlsson led the team in scoring four times and finished second in three others. There was a reason for that. If he didn’t, no one else would.

In San Jose, his job description has changed. On a team that has so many offensive options, Karlsson is no longer the No. 1 offensive weapon. With Brent Burns leading the Sharks with 21 points, he might not even be the team’s No. 1 offensive defenceman.

Ah yes, scoring less as a defenseman than Burns. That’s almost as sick of a burn as telling John Tavares or Auston Matthews that they’re the Toronto Maple Leafs’ second-best center.

While there might be something to Karlsson experiencing some tweaks to his role with the Sharks (it’s certainly true that he’s never played with other defensemen anywhere near the level of Brent Burns or Marc-Edouard Vlasic), it’s far from the only take that might have you scratching your head.

As seemingly always, there are vague rumblings about the locker room being a happier place, with explanations rooted in “picking up on little things” and “body language.”

Some venture the argument that the Senators are finally getting to practice more this season now that their minutes-munching superstar is in San Jose.

The most baffling tendency is to harp on scoring, though.

If you’ve ever gotten into a debate about Karlsson’s Norris Trophy merits, you’ve likely heard someone try to brush off his numbers. The popular (inaccurate) refrain is that Karlsson is “a glorified forward who can’t play defense.”

Remarkably, those who are straining to criticize Karlsson now are using his points against him. I’d wager good money that some of those peoples mocking (still pretty good) point totals are the same people who claimed that his offensive production didn’t matter.

Digging into Karlsson’s stats on even a surface level reveals that he’s still a fantastic defenseman.

Karlsson was frequently a possession monster in Ottawa, particularly compared to Senators teammates whose numbers were often under water. You’d think that he’d be less dazzling on a Sharks team with better players, yet Karlsson isn’t just retaining fantastic individual possession numbers; he’s also putting up great stats relative to his teammates in San Jose.

Actually, you could make a reasonable argument that Karlsson’s been just as good – if not better – than he had been in recent seasons with the Senators. Check out this side-by-side chart based on a wide array of stats, via Bill Comeau’s SKATR comparison tool:

via Bill Comeau

As you can see, Karlsson’s possession numbers have skyrocketed. While his scoring numbers aren’t there yet, one stat seems promising: his expected goals are virtually identical to last season’s figure. That, to me, is another way of driving home the point that the offense will climb as the bounces go his way.

(If that’s too fancy for you, his shooting percentage is just 2.7 this season, far lower than his career average of 6.8.)

Long story short: Karlsson is still really, really good. In my opinion. he’s long been too easily dismissed as an all-around player.

Karlsson himself admits that it will be “different and weird” to play a game against the Senators in Ottawa.

One can see the awkwardness in how he’s addressed the media. Earlier this week, Karlsson basically ended a press conference as it began when someone brought up Ottawa. He played nice during this press conference – almost too nice – although he really shut things down (understandably) when a reporter asked about the Monica Caryk/Melina Karlsson/Mike Hoffman situation.

You can see him abruptly no-comment that at the end of this clip:

As awkward and uncomfortable as some moments will end up being for Karlsson, the Sharks, and the Senators, it’s tough to imagine anything being quite as bumbling as his critics grasping at straws to knock him down a peg.

Luckily, most aren’t falling into that sort of trap, including plenty of Senators fans and also some of Karlsson’s former teammates.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins hope to have a healthy Chara for Stanley Cup Final

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BOSTON (AP) — The Bruins were able to sweep Carolina in the Eastern Conference final without captain Zdeno Chara.

Now they’re hoping 10 days off before the start of the Stanley Cup Final will be enough time for the defenseman to return.

The title round begins May 27 when Boston will face San Jose or St. Louis, with that conference final 2-2. The Bruins completed their sweep Thursday with Chara out with an undisclosed injury.

”We have a lot of time to make the absolute right decision to give him the proper time to get over something that’s been nagging him,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said Saturday. ”And we’ll cross our fingers that will be the case. But we’re confident it will be.”

Sweeney stopped short of guaranteeing Chara’s return for Game 1.

”I’m not living in how or where Zee feels. I expect he’ll be fine,” Sweeney said. ”But I’m not going to sit here and make a proclamation in terms of promises. I do believe that time will be used effectively and he’ll be fine. But sometimes those are out of your control.”

Defenseman Kevan Miller and forward Chris Wagner are doubtful for Game 1 of the Final. Miller hasn’t played since April 4 because of a lower-body injury. Wagner injured his right arm blocking a shot in Game 3 against Carolina.

Patrick Roy set to interview for Senators’ coaching vacancy: report

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Interested in seeing more of this?

Or maybe some of this?

Well, you just might be in luck.

Postmedia’s Bruce Garrioch reports that Patrick Roy is set be the last interview done by Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion as the search for the next bench boss in Canada’s capital continues.

Roy has most recently been coaching the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He last coached in the NHL in 2016 with the Colorado Avalanche, a job he resigned from following that season. Two years earlier, he won the Jack Adams Award for the NHL’s best coach after the Avalanche went from last to first in the Western Conference.

Roy is 130-92-24 during his 246-game coaching career in the NHL.

“Those close to Roy believe he’d like to return to the NHL in the right situation and initially the only pressure in Ottawa will be to develop the young players,” Garrioch wrote. “The Senators have the potential to have 17 picks in the first three rounds of the next three drafts and finding the right fit is paramount.”

The Senators, according to Garrioch, have already interviewed several candidates, including fellow former Avalanche coach Mark Crawford, along with former Senators coach Jacques Martin and Dallas Stars assistance Rick Bowness.

Roy’s experience coaching young players, as Garrioch points out, would be appealing for a team as young as the Senators, who also have a litany of draft picks coming their way over the next three years.

Can Roy work under Senators owner Eugene Melnyk? Can he work with Dorion? Roy didn’t exactly have the best professional relationship with Joe Sakic and Roy would likely want some level of control of the direction of the team.

It remains to be seen, but Roy has a decent track record that is appealing, certainly.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Has Erik Karlsson’s lingering groin injury resurfaced?

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It plagued him for most of the second half of the season.

A good chunk of January, a good chunk of February, and the entirety of March, to be exact.

And now Erik Karlsson‘s Game 5 status is up in the air after he appeared to aggravate a lingering groin injury, one Karlsson said had only progressed in the right direction throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs after Game 1 of the Western Conference Final.

“I don’t have anything for you there,” said Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer when quizzed on Karlsson’s health following a 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues that evened the best-of-seven series 2-2 on Friday.

DeBoer quickly swept that question under the rug.

As did Brent Burns, who just said, “He’s doing good” followed by a “How’re you doing?” when a reporter probed Burns about his teammate.

You may not have noticed it, initially at least.

Normally guys who play 24:33 in a game don’t miss significant stretches. But from the 10:36 mark to 18:05 of the third period, Karlsson didn’t see the ice. With the Sharks trailing 2-1 at the time, you’d expect one of the game’s best offensive defensemen to be on the ice. Instead, Karlsson was grimacing in pain, coming out during commercial breaks to test whatever was ailing him.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Somehow, he played the final 1:55 of the game — nearly two minutes of madness where the Sharks tried, ultimately in vain, to find an equalizer. Karlsson bit down hard on his mouthpiece and bore the pain, but you could see its effects.

PHT’s James O’Brien wrote on Karlsson’s playoffs prior to Friday’s game.

Karlsson limped into the playoffs and said himself that he could barely move in Round 1 against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Still, and as James pointed out in his story, it’s been hard to notice with two goals and 14 assists in 18 postseason games. Karlsson has played big minutes and produced at nearly a point-per-game pace in the playoffs, essentially everything the Sharks envisioned he would do when they brought him in last summer.

What they didn’t want was a nagging injury that force Karlsson to missed 29 games during the regular season and now, perhaps, some at a critical juncture for a team that’s hoping they’ve finally put it all together this year.

Maybe it’s nothing. But those painful faces that Karlsson wore in Game 4 weren’t exactly inspiring confidence in the “maybe it’s nothing” part.

If Karlsson can’t play, it’s only going to mean more minutes for guys like Burns, who is already averaging nearly 29 minutes a night. Karlsson has played an instrumental role in these playoffs for the Sharks.

A loss, even for a game, would be a massive blow in what’s now a best-of-three series.

[MORE: Blues handling adversity like champions]


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blues handling adversity like champions

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How many times have we thought the St. Louis Blues were dead in the water?

Was it in Round 1 when, after jetting out to a 2-0 lead against the Winnipeg Jets, they lost two straight as it appeared the Jets finally got their act together?

Was it after Games 4 and 5 in Round 2 where the Dallas Stars took a 3-2 series lead and we figured that was the end of their miraculous run?

Was it after the San Jose Sharks benefitted from a hand pass by Timo Meier that found the stick of Erik Karlsson to end Game 3 in overtime to give the Sharks a 2-1 series lead in the Western Conference Final?

For a team that sat plumb last in the NHL on the morning of Jan. 3, are we really all that surprised that they’re still alive and kicking?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that a rookie goaltender is now 11-2 following a loss in the regular and postseason combined, throwing up an incredible .936 save percentage when his team needs a win.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be miffed when a team as resilient as the Blues, given all they’ve been through, have outscored opponents 14-9 after a loss in these playoffs.

Embrace the grind, as they say.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

And the Blues have, particularly in Game 4 where they could have imploded after losing in such terrible fashion one-game earlier.

“We just talked about… you’ve got to just move on,” said Blues head coach Craig Berube, saying he went into the room after Game 3 to talk that loss over with the team. “The call, you can’t change it now. It is what it is. I think we talked in terms like that game we had a one-goal lead, we could have closed it out then and we didn’t. We let it go to overtime, and the only difference tonight, we closed it out with a one-goal lead.”

Indeed, the whole overtime crisis of Game 3 could have been averted if the Blues could have held onto a 4-3 third-period lead. They trailed 2-0 and 3-1 in that game but led after a four-goal second period. Only Logan Couture‘s magic 6-on-5 prevented the win in regulation and we all know what happened from there.

Resilience will only take a team so far. It’s an intangible. At the end of the day, that resilience needs to bend but not break and the players have to ultimately get the job done. It broke in Game 3. In Game 4, however, the Blues adjusted.

They didn’t have to play from behind — an Ivan Barbashev goal 35 seconds in solved that issue in short order. Tyler Bozak‘s game-winner was scored later on in the same frame.

The Sharks certainly attacked, finishing the game with 73 shot attempts — more than double that of St. Louis.

But St. Louis held the line.

The final 1:55 of the third period was frantic — madness, as Jordan Binnington put it following the game. A big save from Binnington was followed up by a big block of Alex Steen. Brayden Schenn then did the only thing he could do amidst the onslaught as he iced the puck. With no times outs, the Blues couldn’t get a breather until Joel Edmundson‘s desperate attempt to clear was just short of being an icing call.

The Sharks came back, only to have a shot blocked by Bozak and eventually cleared. Ryan O'Reilly then won a key draw in the neutral zone and Oskar Sundqvist thwarted the final attempt by the Sharks.

“We’ve fought through adversity all year,” Bozak said. “We usually play our best when we have to respond to something.”

Full buy-in from a team that’s done nothing but since Jan. 3. And a 2-2 series stalemate after four games with a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup on the line.

This is simply expected from the Blues at this point.

MORE:
• Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• PHT Conference Finals predictions


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck