Karlsson hits the ground skating

The day Erik Karlsson had surgery for his torn Achilles tendon on Feb. 14, he jokingly told Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson that he would be back playing in two months.

Karlsson hits the ground skating

WASHINGTON — The day Erik Karlsson had surgery for his torn Achilles tendon on Feb. 14, he jokingly told Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson that he would be back playing in two months.

Turns out it wasn’t a joke, after all.

Karlsson made his return to the lineup in Washington Thursday, missing that ridiculous prediction by only two weeks. It was exactly 10 weeks to the day of the surgery, cutting the expected recovery time in half.

Karlsson acknowledged he isn’t where he was when Matt Cooke’s skate sliced the back of his leg, but he also says he wouldn’t have returned if the didn’t feel healthy enough to do so.

“I don’t think I’m rushing it,” he said before the game. “For the first eight weeks, you couldn’t really tell what was going on and when I was going to be able to be back. I didn’t even know. I don’t think anybody knew. The last couple of weeks has been really good and (the Achilles) has been progressing a lot. The scar tissue has been healing as well as we could have hoped. Right now, it’s good enough to hopefully be able to skate almost as well as everybody else.”

That said, Karlsson wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from himself.

“I’ve been away for a long time. The coach has a really good understanding for the game. He’s going to realize what needs to be done and take good care of me. If it ends up I play 10 minutes, then I do. I don’t want to overplay anything or I don’t want to be on the ice or if I don’t feel I’m playing good enough to be out there.”

Not only did Karlsson blow past 10 minutes (he wound up playing 27:11 — tops among all players), he didn’t look the least bit out of place. He also led all players in shots with eight, including a big slapper on his first shift, and picked up an assist on Jakob Silfverberg’s first period goal.

Senators coach Paul MacLean joked, before Wednesday’s game, that his expectation was for Karlsson “to play 35 minutes, be the first start of the game, is that too much to ask?”

Karlsson nearly got there.

MacLean says Karlsson’s mere presence on the ice makes a difference to the Senators.

“Erik is an enthusiastic guy, a confident guy, and he makes plays on the ice that some people can’t make. When you get a player of that quality back, obviously it’s going to give your team confidence.”

From a player’s point of view, Alfredsson says there’s a comfort which comes from having the Norris Trophy winner on the blue line due to his ability to step around an opposition forecheck and to open ice for others.

“When he’s on the ice and I’m on the ice, I can take off, I don’t have to be there (defensively) to support all the time,” Alfredsson said. “He gets a step or two on some guys. He’s used to coming out with the puck and making a good pass. He has that special ability, with his vision and quickness. He can do things other players can’t, that’s just the way it is. He’s pretty special that way.”

Defenceman Marc Methot, who served as Karlsson’s defence partner before the injury and was back in that spot to start Thursday’s game, says he’s as shocked as everybody else to see Karlsson back.

“No, not at all — are you kidding?” he said when asked if he thought it was a possibility he would be back during the regular season.

“I don’t think anybody expected that. Most people were writing him off for this season, at least. But Karl has been in the good care on our team, all the training stuff has done a wonderful job helping him out, and credit to him as well, he’s a hard working individual and he wanted to get back real bad.”

Now that Karlsson’s back, Methot also felt the need to point out how everyone else on the team managed to do more to keep the team in a playoff spot while he was out.

“A lot of it, too, is a big credit to the team, being able to manage to stay alive,” Methot said.

“A lot of people wrote us off when Karl went down and (Jason) Spezza went down and (Milan Michalek) for a little bit. Our young guys, our goalies, everybody stepped up and kind of remained in contention and now that guys are coming back and healthy, we’re still in a good spot and getting stronger as a team.”

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