SUNRISE, Florida – A coach can spend all day and all night making practice plans and trying to get his players to understand X’s and 0′s.
And then along comes a play like the one Erik Karlsson made Thursday. You won’t find it it any coaching handbook anywhere.
“You follow your instinct and make a decision,” Karlsson said of his goal which broke a 1-1 tie against the Florida Panthers in an eventual 3-1 victory. “I just tried to make a read. And it could have gone the other way, too.”
For those who missed it, Karlsson intercepted a pass just outside the Panthers blueline and held his ground while defence partner Marc Methot scrambled from the front of the Panthers net and sprinted across the blueline, allowing Karlsson to stay onside before he took off the other way.
By the time Methot turned around to face the play, Karlsson had raced into the Panthers zone, firing the puck over the trapper of Panthers goaltender Jose Theodore.
“It was like a lightning (skating) drill in practice,” said Methot. “I looked up and I saw Karl just waiting for me, just staring at me and I wanted to hustle back. I don’t remember a whole lot, I was just trying to get over the blueline. I heard it was a good shot. I turned around and it was in the net.”
Senators coach Paul MacLean has become accustomed to seeing the unusual from Karlsson and he was left marvelling at the play. He said it was akin to making “something out of nothing”, an effort few players have the ability to make.
“I haven’t seen too many people who are able to skate that fast from a dead stop outside the blueline to the hashmarks like that,” he said. “That’s why he’s a Norris Trophy winner.”
Other than that, there weren’t too many other pretty moments in Thursday’s game. Both teams were sloppy, bailed out by their goaltenders. Yet thanks to the victory, the Senators found themselves sitting with a perfect 3-0 record as they landed in Tampa early Friday, aiming to knock off the Lightning and come home from Florida with a 4-0 record.
At some point, the bubble will burst, but for now, smiles are everywhere. And everything is going right for the Senators.
“It’s huge…this is a year that anything can happen,” said Chris Phillips.
MacLean might opt to make some changes to the lineup Friday – back-up goaltender Ben Bishop could draw the start instead of Craig Anderson and forward Kaspars Daugavins and defenceman Mark Borowiecki could be inserted in – but it’s difficult to break up a winning hand.
The winning streak is buying general manager Bryan Murray time as he looks around the NHL, wondering if there is a veteran player or two who could improve the squad. It’s also allowing Guillaume Latendresse to breathe slightly easier, despite his struggles.
Latendresse remains goalless, despite having at least a half dozen fantastic scoring chances in the opening three games. His old friend Theodore robbed him on a penalty shot in the third period and on a 5-on-3 power play chance in the first period. Latendresse also hesitated on a 2-on-1 break.
MacLean made a subtle change during the third period, moving up Erik Condra to play alongside Kyle Turris and Daniel Alfredsson on the second line, with Latendresse sitting for several shifts.
If the Senators were losing, patience might be wearing thin and Latendresse acknowledges he might receive “more rope” due to the team’s success.
“Games like (Thursday) would usually be a two or a three-goal night,” he said. “That 5 on 3, that has to be a goal. That penalty shot, that has to be a better shot.”
AND THE NUMBERS SAY
16: Senators skaters with at least one shot on goal. Erik Karlsson and Daniel Alfredsson led the way with four each.
6: Shots blocked by the Senators’ Andre Benoit and the Panthers’ Filip Kuba
18-7: Jason Spezza’s faceoff record
9-0-1: Craig Anderson’s career record against the Florida Panthers
4: Hits by Colin Greening