How do you say ‘keep it simple’ in Swedish?

Erik Karlsson and David Rundblad are learning that the exuberance of youth has its limits.

While the Ottawa Senators flashy 21-year-old Swedish defencemen are at different stages in their NHL careers, they’re both hearing the same message from coach Paul MacLean.

Often, there are times to pocket the pretty play and take in the big picture. Not only can patience be a virtue in the NHL, it can pave the way to victories.

“Sometimes making the difference isn’t something special or something spectacular, it’s just something simple to get momentum back on your side and that’s something that our team struggles with,” MacLean said Thursday, lamenting the series of third period breakdowns in Wednesday’s 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins while preparing for Friday’s visit by the Pittsburgh Penguins. “We’re trying to do something way bigger than we need to and end up making it worse for ourselves.”

Karlsson and Rundblad are hardly the only culprits, but they are representative of a relatively inexperienced club learning on the fly about how to handle critical situations. At the pressure points in recent games, they’ve tried low-percentage gambles rather than waiting for the opposition to open the door with their own errors.

On Wednesday, the Senators trailed 2-1 in the third period when Karlsson couldn’t control a poor pass from Daniel Alfredsson, leading directly to a Patrice Bergeron breakaway goal. Only 56 seconds later, both Karlsson and Rundblad were caught pinching deep in the Bruins zone, leading to another breakaway goal by Daniel Paille.

MacLean is in teaching mode, emphasing the importance of patience through words and video.

“With Karl, he’s guilty of trying too hard,” said MacLean. “Sometimes, less is more and if you just stick with it, you’re going to accomplish more than trying to force it.”

Karlsson’s offensive touch is evident by his 24 assists, second in the NHL. His defensive mistakes are clear by his plus/minus of minus eight.

“Maybe we want things to happen a bit too fast sometimes, instead of just waiting it out and being patient,” said Karlsson. “We just have to figure out a few small things, especially late in the games sometimes when we’re that close to evening the game up. Small things to stay patient in certain situations, instead of being the team that makes the mistakes all the time.”

Rundblad is in a different situation, looking every bit like a raw rookie, often caught moving forwards when the play is headed back into the Senators end. He has been in and out of the lineup all season, but his minus 10 in 23 games is tied with Colin Greening for the team’s worst. He might be better served playing with Binghamton of the American Hockey League to regain his confidence, but with Filip Kuba and Sergei Gonchar nursing injuries, MacLean doesn’t have the luxury of taking him out.

“It would have been nice to give him a breather and give him an opportunity to get himself righted again, but the NHL isn’t fair,” said MacLean. “We only have six (defencemen) right now and you have to come and you have to play and and try to get better every day and learning from the things that happen on the ice that aren’t good and also the things that are good.

“That’s our expectation from David. It’s an opportunity to learn and gain a respect for how hard it is to play in this league.”

Rundblad, who has scored one goal and three assists, understands he must pick up his game.

“I have to do something about it,” he said. “I’m working on it every practice and the coach is talking to me about what I need to improve on. In the last (few) games, maybe I made too many mistakes and it caused us some goals. The way I play, I want to be offensive and if I get a chance to take the puck…I’m working on it. It’s something that will get better and better with time, but of course, I’m not satisfied.”

If it’s any consolation to Rundblad and Karlsson, 39-year-old Daniel Alfredsson and 28-year-old Jason Spezza also acknowledge that they’ve made ill-timed mistakes while pushing for too much.

“We’ve played well lately, but we’ve just made too many glaring errors that have cost us and ended up in the back of the net,” said Spezza. “I make a couple of mistakes on the power play in the New Jersey game (a 5-4 shootout loss on Dec.8), and in the game last night there are a couple of mistakes made by guys. We’re doing a lot of good things. We just have to make sure we stick to the system the whole time. The good teams have been real patient and found a way to capitalize against us.”

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