Erik Karlsson is having a career year, currently leading all NHL defenceman in points. At his current pace it looks like he’ll be carrying the Senators playoff hopes on his back while averaging the most time on ice of any Senator. Sound familiar? Remember back in 2007-08 when John Paddock relied heavily on his top line of Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, and Daniel Alfredsson to produce the offence. It backfired halfway through the season as they got burnt out. It showed as the Sens nearly fell out of a playoff spot and still ended up getting swept in the first round by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Could the same situation be happening again with Karlsson?
In Karlsson’s rookie year he averaged 20:07 of TIO, which increased the following year to 23:31. Now he’s at 25:24 which is good for 11th among NHL defenceman. It’s also first among all Ottawa Senators, with the closest player being his partner Filip Kuba who averages 22:13. Some may say that Karlsson isn’t being overplayed if there’s 10 NHL defenceman all averaging more ice time than he is. However, keep in mind the style that Karlsson plays. He likes to skate and bring the puck out of his own zone himself which is a lot more tiring than one who goes for the breakout pass every time. He’s also the defenceman that a lot of opponents will try and beat on offensive rushes (thinking he’s the weaker link of the defensive pair) which can also take its toll.
Although Karlsson is still racking up points the past few games, many fans have noticed that his game has definitely changed. We don’t see as much of the explosive speed through the neutral zone that we had seen earlier in the year. Additionally, the Sens powerplay has also hit rock bottom. Perhaps it’s a sign that fatigue is starting to take effect on Karlsson. However, the circumstances surrounding this situation could offer an explanation as well.
The Senators have had a pretty tight schedule the past few week (having played 4 games in 6 nights) as well as having suffered injuries to power play specialists Filip Kuba and Sergei Gonchar. This leaves Paul MacLean very little choice when it comes to selecting his offensive quarterback. Karlsson is realistically the only threat from the point that the Sens have right now. David Rundblad who is expected to help in that regard has struggled so far this season adapting to the North American ice (similar to Karlsson in his rookie year). The 4 other defenceman (Cowen, Phillips, Lee, and Carkner) are all more defensive specialists. This leaves all the pressure on Karlsson.
Other teams have come to realise this and have been focusing their defence (especially on powerplays) to give Karlsson as little time as possible with the puck. With pressure on him all the time, Karlsson’s shifts are becoming harder to play, which leads to quicker fatigue as the game goes on. If you’re a Sens fan you can’t wait for Gonchar and Kuba to return to help take the pressure off of Karlsson. Until then, Erik Karlsson will be relied on heavily to provide the offense from the back end. It’s definitely an interesting situation to keep an eye on for the next few games.