On their recent three-game road trip through the Southwestern United States, the Senators scored 12 goals; 6 of them were by defensemen.
While everyone is caught up in the hoopla surrounding the team’s brand new forward depth, the blueliners have quietly been key contributors to a season-high six-game win streak.
“It’s huge,” said Marc Methot after today’s morning skate. “(It’s) another example of the depth you need on a hockey team when you want to do some damage in the postseason. I was saying earlier, you’ve got four lines now up front that you can trust and on the back end, everyone’s contributing. On nights when we’re struggling a little bit to get some offense up front, it’s nice that the defense can help that.”
With injuries to Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris, Mark Stone and Chris Neil - although, Turris and Ryan will return to action tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning - the bottom six forwards have stepped up. And with Mark Borowiecki out with a lower-body injury, Freddy Claesson has raised the bar entirely.
Not only did Claesson record 4 (2,2) points during the team’s trip down south, but he has an outstanding 9 points in his last 11 games. That’s even more impressive when you put into consideration that, as the team’s designated seventh defenseman, the 24-year-old is in and out of the lineup all the time. Being able to step in at a moment’s notice isn’t an easy thing to do, but he’s made it look rather effortless this season.
“I’ve been playing with him for a long time, so it’s great to see,” said Chris Wideman, who sits beside Claesson in the locker room. “He’s awesome. He’s a good teammate, a good person and works really hard. It’s paying off for him and it’s a boost for the team and D corps.”
While Wideman and Cody Ceci also got in on all the fun while the team was away - both scored in the Senators’ 5-2 victory against Dallas - Erik Karlsson continued his second-half dominance with an incredible performance in Arizona.
The captain was in on all three Senators goals en route to their 3-2 overtime win, including scoring the game deciding goal 40 seconds into 3-on-3 hockey.
“He drives the bus and everyone follows,” said Wideman, when asked to make a case for Karlsson’s third Norris Trophy. “His stats are obviously unbelievable. But if you watch the games, just how hard he plays defensively, he leads the league in blocked shots, he’s hard on the puck all over the ice, when he gets up in the rush he gets back and breaks the play up by himself.”
Karlsson has 23 points in his last 20 games and has been one of the biggest reasons Ottawa has made a serious push to win the Atlantic Division.
“Offensively, he’s probably one of the most gifted players in the league,” said Wideman. “But his defense gets really overlooked because his offense is so great. Being able to watch him and play with him every night, you really notice that he plays hard every night, he’s a competitor and he’s our leader.”
The Senators go for their seventh-straight win as they host the Lightning tonight. And as he did in their last meeting, Mike Condon will get the start in relief of Craig Anderson, who is battling a lower-body injury.
Condon allowed 5 goals on 34 shots the last time the two teams met. Nikita Kucherov famously scored three power play goals in the second period for the natural hat trick all from the exact same spot.
Senators head coach Guy Boucher was asked if the team is going to focus more on Kucherov tonight.
“We decided we’re just going to let him have his one-time from there,” Boucher joked.
“Obviously, we’re aware that when he’s on that side - everywhere, he’s a threat - but once he’s got that comfort zone, a bit like Ovechkin and Stamkos and those guys, he’s got great accuracy and great quickness. We know that they’re looking to give it to him, so we’re aware of that. But we also know that they’ve got a lot of other good player to watch out for, so the best thing is to just stay out of the box.”
The Lightning, who are very much in the hunt for the final wildcard spot after a miraculous late-season resurgence, are 11-2-3 in their previous 16 games. Though the away team is on the second half of a back-to-back, the Senators will get a highly motivated and determined opponent tonight.