The Ottawa Senators will get one heck of a late season addition to their lineup Thursday night when they visit the Capitals as defenseman Erik Karlsson will make his return after missing over two months with a lacerated Achilles tendon.
Karlsson, the reigning Norris Trophy winner, suffered the injury on Feb. 13 when the skate of Penguins’ forward Matt Cooke cut the back of his left leg and had what was supposed to be season-ending surgery to repair his Achilles. But Karlsson has made a stunningly quick recovery and told reporters at Verizon Center Thursday morning that he will play against the Capitals.
“It changes them. We played them before when he was in the lineup, we know what he brings,” Capitals Coach Adam Oates said. “We’re not going to change the plan, we have to be ready for it.”
Karlsson had six goals and four assists in 14 games before suffering the injury and adds an element to Ottawa’s game by jumping into the play that is similar to Mike Green’s role with the Capitals. Karlsson averaged 27:04 minutes per game at the start of the season but it’s unlikely he sees that heavy of a workload tonight, given that he missed 31 games with the Achilles injury.
But the Capitals are well aware of the added threat Karlsson provides to Ottawa’s offense.
“Obviously he’s a really good skater and he’s good with the puck. He plays defense and offense, he follows up real well so I think he’s a big key in their team,” said Nicklas Backstrom, who has played with Karlsson on the Swedish national team and discussed the defenseman’s potential return before it was confirmed. “I think that kind of injury you don’t want to see in the league, if he would play tonight I’m just glad to see him.”
Said Marcus Johansson, who has played with or against Karlsson since he was 16: “He’s a great hockey player. He’s got the whole package, and he’s a great skater with great hands and great looks. He sees the play unbelievably well. He’s definitely someone you have to be aware of when he’s on the ice.”
Oates said while his team will be prepared for the additional threat Karlsson brings, he was quick to point out that it’s difficult to predict how the defenseman will fare after such an extended time off.
“It’s the first game back for him in a long time so I don’t think you’ll know exactly what you’ll get from him,” Oates said. “It won’t be the real guy yet but obviously we’re very conscious of him.”
While Karlsson may need some time to get back to his previous form just his presence in the lineup offers a boost to the Senators, who can clinch a playoff berth with a win of any type against Washington.
“It’s awesome. I think we all had an idea yesterday practicing and how he was paired up with me, but it’s a refreshing sight to see,” Marc Methot, Karlsson’s defensive partner, told reporters at Verizon Center. “You could tell it brings a lot of energy out of all the guys. It’s new life into our dressing room. Even with [Daniel Alfredsson], you could tell that he’s got a little hop in his step today, too. He’s got his Swedish buddy back, so it’s exciting.”