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Ottawa Senators Season Review: Erik Karlsson

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Introduction

Erik Karlsson had an eventful year, his second in the NHL. He started strong, made the All-Star team, had a huge downturn in form in the middle of winter, and then finished very strong. His season was cut short with a thigh laceration at the end of March.

Expectations were pretty high for the Ottawa Senators, at least from their own supporters, with many including myself expecting another playoff spot after a surprising fifth place finish in the 2009-2010 season. However, the season went horribly wrong for Ottawa, yet Karlsson's play helped give fans hope for the future.

With both Daniel Alfredsson and Jason Spezza struggling earlier in the season, Erik Karlsson was Ottawa's lone representative at the 2011 All-Star game. He had 8 goals, 15 assists for 23 points in the 37 games before the New Year. He had a -6 rating at the time, but the team as a whole was struggling in that respect with Chris Phillips at -12, Sergei Gonchar at -19 and Filip Kuba at -10 in only 22 games. In January, he was paired with Chris Phillips and with the stretch of 17 losses in 18 games, both defencemen struggled mightily. Karlsson's struggles continued into February when he was paired with Filip Kuba. However, the Craig Anderson trade and Jason Spezza's return helped lift Karlsson's game with March being Karlsson's best month both offensively and defensively as he also earned increased responsibility.

A month by month summary of his season follows. Note, the goals for and goals against numbers include even strength, power play and shorthanded numbers, thus they are not equal to +/-. For example, in October, Karlsson was on the ice for 6 Senators goals scored, and on the ice for 7 Senators goals allowed.

Month
Games Goals Assists Points +/- GF while on ice
GA while on ice
Difference (GF - GA)
October
11 2 2 4 -4 6 7 -1
November
12 2 6 8 0 15 10 +5
December
14 4 7 11 -2 16 12 +4
January
11
0 5 5 -11 8 18 -10
February
11 1 4 5 -14 10 20 -10
March
16 4 8
12 +1 21 14 +7
Total
75 13 32 45
-30
76 81 -5

 

More after the jump.

So what does this mean? It seems Karlsson was pretty good from October to December, while the team was mediocre. He struggled really badly in January and February while the team also struggled. When the team turned it around over the last month, Karlsson was outstanding and was a big part of the turnaround.

Offence

Clearly, the best part of Karlsson's game are his offensive skills. He really has it all, he's got a very hard shot from a small frame and he has excellent vision, where he see plays develop and makes long accurate passes. He also has excellent speed and can stickhandle with the best of them among defencemen.

Defence

The biggest knock on Karlsson is his defensive play. Generously listed at 6 feet, 175 pounds on the Ottawa Senators website, Karlsson is often muscled off the puck by bigger forwards. He is also sometimes too aggressive in the offensive zone, where he makes the wrong decision to pinch, resulting in an odd-man rush the other way.

Effort

Another strength of Karlsson is that he always gives it his all. This is an attribute usually associated with third/fourth line grinders, but this is something I have noticed about Karlsson. No matter the score, he will try and make something happen. When he makes a mistake defensively, he skates back hard and tries to recover, though he doesn't always manage to recover.

While Karlsson finished 7th among NHL defencemen in giveaways, he was also 5th among defencemen in takeaways. His effort is unquestionable, but if he can learn to cut down the mistakes without sacrificing his offensive opportunities too much, then we should be in for a treat.

Even Strength and Special Teams

Erik Karlsson did finish the year -30, so one might assume that he struggled throughout the year on even strength. As the table below will show, that was the case in total, but in large part due to his awful months in January and February. The rest of the year, he was pretty decent on even strength, as well as the power play.

Even strength Power Play Shorthanded
Month
Points GF-GA difference while on ice Points GF-GA difference while on ice Points GF-GA difference while on ice
October
2 -4 2 +3 0 0
November
5 +1 3 +5 0 -1
December
5 -1 6 +6 0 -1
January
2
-11 3 +1 0 0
February
2 -12 3 +4 0 -2
March
7 0 4 +6 1 +1
Total
23 -27 21 +25 1 -3

 

Increased Responsibility

The dramatic improvement in Karlsson's play also coincided with him being given more responsibility. After Sergei Gonchar went down with an injury, Karlsson even had a couple of games at over 30 minutes of ice time. Also, while I was initially skeptical on playing Karlsson on the penalty kill, he has really come into his own in that role. Recently departed penalty killing coach, Greg Carvel named Karlsson as one of the players who contributed to the vastly improved penalty kill.

Future Outlook

Erik Karlsson still has a lot of room for improvement. His decision making is questionable at times, but that can be easily remedied with more experience. His size also limits how he can play defensively, he has to be clever and use his speed and agility to cut the angles for forwards. Having said that, he is a tremendous talent offensively. I truly believe he is the most offensively talented defenceman to ever play for the Senators since I have supported them.

For next season, I expect Karlsson to at least replicate this season offensively, while improving defensively. With a competent goaltender behind him, his defensive development can only improve next year. He has all the makings of a top pairing defenceman, logging around 25 minutes a night and playing in every situation.

 

This was the first in a series of Ottawa Senators season reviews. Next week, I will do a review for Jason Spezza.