Ottawa Senators on shutting down Erik Karlsson: ‘There’s only so much you can do’

If the Canadian Olympic hockey team is to bring home the gold medal Sunday, it’ll have to find a way to overcome what many saw as the second-best squad coming in to the tournament: Sweden.

Ottawa Senators on shutting down Erik Karlsson: ‘There’s only so much you can do’
Sweden defenseman Erik Karlsson reacts after scoring a goal against Finland during the second period of a men's semifinal ice hockey game at the 2014 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014, in Sochi, Russia. (AP Photo/Petr David Josek)

If the Canadian Olympic hockey team is to bring home the gold medal Sunday, it’ll have to find a way to overcome what many saw as the second-best squad coming in to the tournament: Sweden.

And with that comes the tall task of shutting down the world’s most dynamic offensive defenceman, the Ottawa Senators’ Erik Karlsson (currently tied atop the Olympic scoring list with eight points).

“How do you stop Player X?” may be the most tired question in hockey, but when players’ own teammates taking a swing at it, you can expect a little more than “take away his time and space.”

So after the Senators’ hour-long skate at the Bell Sensplex, a number of Karlsson’s Ottawa colleagues were asked to come up with ideas for shutting down Player 65. Here’s what they had to say:

Marc Methot: “He’s played unbelievable, in my opinion, he’s really taken control of the games. Again, I’m not surprised. You know what he’s capable of on a smaller ice surface in North America, where it’s a little more physical. I mean, out there, when he has more space to carry it, to beat guys one-on-one, that’s what he excels at and it’s showing.

“You know what? You have so many responsible players (on Canada), they’re all elite players, they’re all leaders on their respective teams when they come back. You don’t have to address (facing a player like Karlsson), but guys know how to work.

“But in terms of defending Karl, you need to have guys back, a third forward back at least, trap the neutral zone, I don’t know. I know Canada’s defence is playing really well and you’ve got a great goaltender, so I’m leaning towards them obviously, I have to.

“But a guy like Karl, there’s only so much you can do.”

Jason Spezza: “He’s arguably the best skater in the game and you can’t give a guy like that room. He’s kind of a one-man breakout a lot of times, especially on the big ice. I don’t know … he’s been really good on the power play there, I’m sure they’ll be talking about that, but I’m sure every team goes into every game talking about him there.

“His mobility is what makes him so elite. I don’t know how they’re going to approach things (but) it’s not like he has a big, overwhelming shot like Weber, where you’ve got to stay tight to him, but he’s got a great snap shot, he can beat you any which way, and that’s what makes him so dangerous all the time.

“He’s probably the best skater in the game, (fluidity), ability to turn from a standstill and there might be some guys that are more powerful and some guys that cut to the net better than him, but as a total package, he’s got to be one of the best skaters in the game.

Robin Lehner: “People have been trying to shut down Erik for a few years in this league, and you can’t just shut him down because he’s so quick. All of a sudden you have him and then he’s gone and it’s the bigger ice, so, of course he’s a priority, but there’s a lot of good players on the Swedish team and you can’t just focus on one guy.”

LEHNER’S LOCK OF THE WEEK

Drew Doughty (L), Jeff Carter and Ryan Getzlaf (R) of Team Canada walk back to the Bolshoy Ice Dome after hockey practice at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games, February 22, 2014. Photo by Jean Levac/Postmedia News

Naturally, the Canadians in the Senators’ room were all pulling for Canada in Sunday’s gold medal game, but none of them would venture a guess at how it would all play out (“You only need more than the other team,” coach Paul MacLean offered).

The whole contest has already played out in Lehner’s mind, however.

“It’ll be 3-1 Sweden,” the Swede said after pausing for a moment to consider the outcome. “Erik scores first, then …. Sedin or Ericsson scores second and Alfie scores the open net.”

So how are they going to shut down Canada’s offence?

“Well, (the Canadians) haven’t scored much and Lundqvist has been playing great. If they can clog up the defensive zone a little bit, I think Sweden’s skill on the big ice will really come out to play.”

OFFICIALLY MAD

Meanwhile, Lehner joined the chorus of Swedes who felt it was absurd to have three Canadian-born referees working the gold medal final.

“There should be controversy,” he said. “It can’t be a Canadian ref.

“He knows if he makes a mistake, he can’t move back here,” the goalie joked. “He might get deported.

“It’s not that I think they’ll (favour Canada) on purpose, but it will be in the back of their mind. I know if I was the ref — Canada’s biggest sport and the biggest event for Canada — I wouldn’t want to do a mistake in Sweden’s favour. I couldn’t even take my kids to the mall.”

RYAN NEARS RETURN

Winger Bobby Ryan missed practice again Saturday, but MacLean said he expects the player back Monday.

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