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A look at how Guy Boucher is altering Erik Karlsson’s play

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Plus some thoughts on Elliotte Friedman’s other Sens-related thoughts

NHL: Washington Capitals at Ottawa Senators
A rare sight this season
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts column is always worth reading, and the one that came out this week was no different. That being said, the weeks he talks about the Ottawa Senators always make me a little more excited. Lost in the shuffle of the Tommy Wingels blockbuster was the fact that 5/30 of Friedman’s thoughts were about the Sens, virtually unheard of by a voice from a national broadcast.

The money quotes though from Friedman were about Erik Karlsson. First, his ice time distribution has changed a lot:

A year ago, Karlsson played the most in the NHL (2,375:55) and had the longest shift length (1:04). But he was tied for 72nd in shifts per game and 34th in overall shifts taken. It’s not like he’s stapled to the bench, as his overall time is eighth. But he’s now second in the NHL in shifts per game, going from 27.1 to 32.2 per night. His length has dropped to 0:50, which is 38th.

Karlsson’s ice time has dropped recently, including Cody Ceci getting a lot more ice time. Also, under Dave Cameron Karlsson would regularly play 1:30 or more of each powerplay, while Guy Boucher tends to play Karlsson for the first shift and then get him off. Part of this is because Karlsson is also playing the most PK time of his career (2:22), but part of it is also because Boucher wants his star defenceman fresher. It’ll be interesting to see if Karlsson’s ice time increases if the Sens falter out of a playoff spot down the stretch or something.

Friedman also paraphrased Mike Condon about Karlsson’s ability to block shots:

Karlsson is a terrific shot-blocker. Not just because he can do it, but because of how he does it... What the captain tries to do is control the block, turn it into a change of possession and a transition chance.

People have talked on and on and on about The System (TM) all year, and part of that system has been more blocked shots. What’s interesting is that Karlsson is (before Thursday night’s game) second in the league in blocked shots, up there with Kris Russell and Dan Girardi. Normally the shot-block leaders aren’t also the guys who put up points, but Karlsson’s proving that wrong. And is anyone at all surprised that Karlsson is among the best at it? I liked Friedman’s point that Karlsson doesn’t just block, but tries to turn a block into a change of possession. The problem with “traditional” shot blocking is that typically blocking a shot turns into the other team just taking another shot, meaning you have to make another block, which doesn’t alleviate the pressure, and so on. The idea of using a shot block to transition is a little unique, but is definitely something I’ve seen Karlsson do effectively. And maybe it’s part of why the Sens are actually winning this year.

Of course, there’s been a trade off here. Karlsson is still second in defensive scoring, but he’s behind Brent Burns by 12 points. It looks like Karlsson won’t finish first in defensive scoring without having his Achilles sliced for the first time since 2011-12. Likely subbing PP time with PK time hasn’t helped this. It’s clear he’s not going for the straight-up-the-middle breakaway pass as much as he used to, and his shooting is WAY down. This year he’s 18th among defencemen in shots, while last year he was 2nd. But if some of Karlsson’s offence is sacrificed for the team to be a lot better overall, that’s probably a trade worth making. A smart move by tactician Guy Boucher.

Friedman’s other Sens-related thoughts:

  • He expects the Sens look at extending Mike Condon now that Zack Smith’s re-signed. I’d be surprised if Condon took a shot with the Sens, seeing as how he’s proved himself and the Sens likely will have Craig Anderson as the undisputed starter. That being said, I expected Andrew Hammond to test the market after his impressive run a couple years ago, and he definitely didn’t.
  • He looked at the Sens’ improved PK (Karlsson on the PK anyone?), but then looked at the goalies’ save percentage. Generally, PK save percentage is unpredictable. I think the Sens have been limiting shots on the PK, especially from high-danger areas, but it looks like the Sens were also pretty unlucky when it comes to their goalies on the PK last season and were due for some improvement.
  • Clarke MacArthur is still trying to come back next season. The fact that the team shut him down for the rest of this season tells me they’re taking his long-term health more seriously than I’d realized. Hopefully that continues into next season. As much as I’d love to see MacA play again, I want to see him enjoy the next few decades of his life even more.