The EK versus PK comparisons – as in Ottawa Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson versus Montreal Canadiens blueliner P.K. Subban – won’t go away.
Karlsson is the reigning Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s top defenceman. Subban is one of the leading candidates to capture that honour this season.
Both are dynamic offensive threats with the ability to change a game in a hurry.
Karlsson, injured for the bulk of the 2013 season due to Achilles surgery, led all defencemen in scoring last season, scored 19 goals and 59 assists in 81 games. Subban, who missed the start of the 2013 season due to a contract fight with the Canadiens, netted 11 goals and 27 assists this season, tying Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang for defenceman scoring lead.
So, are their differences?
“There are definitely differences,” said Senators tough guy Chris Neil. “One guy has won a Norris. One guy hasn’t.”
How about that for an opening salvo in the Senators-Canadiens series?
Neil, of course, would like nothing better than for those to be those fighting words. If Subban ever wanted to engage Neil, he would kindly oblige, taking Subban off the ice for five minutes.
That’s not going to happen, but the Senators are well aware that one of the keys to winning the series is to shut down, or at least slow down, the Canadiens’ catalyst from the back end.
“The Montreal team elevated its game when they got Subban back from his lockout or sit-in – I’m not quite sure exactly what to call it – but after they got him, it changed a dimension on their team, quite a bit,” said Senators coach Paul MacLean.
Zack Smith says there’s no great secret to what the Senators will try to accomplish against Subban, but he knows it’s easier said than done.
“We’ve got to be aware when he’s out there, jumping up and trying to be the third or fourth man up in the play and off the rush,” he said. “He also likes to play physical and the best way to handle that is to be physical on their guys. Every team talks about that going into playoffs, to be physical with D men. We’re playing seven games in a short amount of time and it’s bound to wear on them, but I’m sure they’re saying the same thing over there.”
Senators defenceman Marc Methot, who will have the luxury of playing alongside Karlsson during the series agrees that “Subban deserves the respect that he has because he has had an excellent season and put up a lot of points.”
Not surprisingly, the Canadiens were offering up similar sentiments about Karlsson following their workout in Montreal Tuesday.
“He’s a special player,” said defenceman Josh Gorges. “Just to think about how fast he came back from an injury like that, and then not just to come back, but to play the minutes he plays.”
Gorges says Karlsson’s ability to skate and read situations is “unbelievable” but he says it’s not always so easy to simply plan on hitting him hard to take him out of the game. “He’s pretty elusive out there. He’s not an easy guy to get a hold of and finish your checks. He’s got a lot of similarities to a guy like Scott Niedermayer. Every game you would say ‘we’ve got to finish our checks on this guy’. But it’s almost impossible. They’re (both) such good skaters.”
It’s going to fun to watch Karlsson and Subban take turns trying to turn the games.
Senators goaltender Craig Anderson might have the best view in the house to watch it all.
“They’re both offensively gifted,” Anderson said. “P.K. has had a great year and Erik, well, we all know what he can do. But at the same time, it’s one of those things where you need a support crew around you and the more support you have, the better those players will be. I’m looking forward to seeing both those guys play and seeing what they and their support crew can do.”
As for that Neil-Subban fight? Don’t hold your breath.