Senators get the best of Karlsson in Ottawa homecoming once more

Nick Paul scored twice and added an assist, Brady Tkachuk scored and recorded two helpers as the Ottawa Senators beat the San Jose Sharks 5-2.

In the past 13 months, Erik Karlsson‘s entire world has changed.

Mostly for the better. Except for those point-less return visits to Ottawa with the Sharks to play Karlsson’s former Senators.

Karlsson, 29, is a new father to baby Harlo Rain Karlsson, his hockey future is as as certain as a guaranteed eight-year, $92-million contract can be, and any lingering anxiety about this former captain leaving the Ottawa Senators via trade is long gone.

Sunday, Karlsson was back at the Canadian Tire Centre with the San Jose Sharks, but there was no need for a separate news conference room to accommodate all the cameras and probing reporters as there was for his initial return, at the end of November last year.

"This year it’s a little bit more comfortable," Karlsson said, in a dressing room scrum. "I didn’t do much (Saturday), it felt like I had seen all the people and kissed all the babies (on the first visit back) and did all that. I could just kind of relax. And spend the night at home, which was nice."

Karlsson finds he doesn’t have to explain as often anymore his impasse with Senators management, which led to a trade on the first day of 2018 training camp.

"It’s kind of nice to come back and just be the regular guy I normally am," Karlsson says.

Yes, the normal everyday hockey superstar, with two Norris Trophies to his credit.

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Karlsson and his wife, Melinda, still call Ottawa home, at least in the off-season. Their precious baby was born Oct. 3, nearly 19 months after the Karlssons lost a son, who was stillborn.

"It hasn’t been easy, but after the rain, finally our little rainbow arrived," Karlsson noted on an Instagram post after the birth of his daughter. "Love you both more than I could ever imagine."

While Karlsson said he knows he will be forever changed by fatherhood, he isn’t sure how just yet.

"I’m sure it will (change me)," Karlsson says. "She’s so small I haven’t been able to do very much as a father. But it’s one of those things you can’t plan or prepare for too much, we’ll see how it goes. Overall it’s going to go well.

Mom and daughter are both healthy and happy, the new dad reports.

Having been on the road since Oct. 20, Karlsson is learning a rule of parenting — babies don’t wait for mom or dad to get home after a long trip before growing, little by little.

"Apparently, she is changing by the day," Karlsson says. "We’re trying to figure out what our new routine is going to be … we can’t get our rhythm yet, but that is normal."

The same could be said of Karlsson’s Sharks – they are trying to find their rhythm and routine in the early season, suddenly 4-7-1 after dropping a 5-2 game against the lowly Senators, who improved to 3-7-1.

This slow start by San Jose is a situation of interest for Senators’ fans as Ottawa holds the Sharks first-round pick next June, as part of the Karlsson trade. From a Senators perspective, a poor Sharks season would result in a significant pick in what is expected to be a strong 2020 draft pool.

This little side story added spice to what might normally be a pedestrian meeting of ex-teammates from the far west and an eastern rebuilding team.

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On Karlsson’s first visit, Dec. 1 of last year, the Senators surprised the Sharks 6-2. They weren’t any more hospitable this time around, giving San Jose fits en route to a three-goal win enjoyed by a home crowd of just 9,740, the second-smallest at the CTC this season.

Bad enough that Karlsson is 0-for-2 as an enemy skater in Ottawa, he was also victimized in the slot on two goals by Nick Paul and another by Brady Tkachuk. Karlsson was +/- minus-four overall, and was on the ice for every goal scored in the game, two by his team (on on the power play) and all five Senators goals. His defence partner, Brenden Dillon, was also +/- minus-four.

Karlsson played 22:11, including 4:20 of power play time.

"As a team and as individuals I don’t think anybody is really pleased with the way we played tonight," Karlsson said. "It’s not a representation of this organization or this team and it’s definitely not one of the better ones we’ve had or what we need right now."

Asked about Karlsson’s difficult return, captain Logan Couture said: "it wasn’t just Erik. It’s not on one guy. He tried his hardest, he tried to make plays. He was creating offensively, we didn’t do a good enough job supporting him all over the ice."

Despite Karlsson’s rough night, it’s obvious he is healthier, more mobile than he’s been in a couple of years. He caught Connor Brown with ease as Brown broke up ice with the puck in the eventful second period.

Slowed by a major groin issue last winter, Karlsson had surgery to repair the tears in late May and says the recovery has so far been much smoother than his experience with ankle and Achilles’ injuries while with the Senators.

"I feel good," he says. "I don’t think the groin has affected me, not in the way the ankle and the Achilles did, which is nice."

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Karlsson couldn’t get too choked up about facing his old teammates, considering how few of them are left.

Only Craig Anderson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Mark Borowiecki, Bobby Ryan and Thomas Chabot played with Karlsson on a regular basis. And Ryan was a healthy scratch Sunday.

Nevertheless, Karlsson enjoyed seeing familiar Senators staff and players.

"It’s still a lot of familiar faces, and it’s nice to see," Karlsson said. "It feels like home."

Meet the $37-million Senators

The Senators are in the running for the Eastern Conference basement and on Sunday, they iced a bargain basement roster to match.

With their two highest-paid forwards Bobby Ryan ($7.25 million) and Mikkel Boedker ($4 million) out of the lineup as healthy scratches, Ottawa had about as much money accounted for by healthy scratches, injuries, long-term injured reserve and a buyout (Dion Phaneuf) as they did with the roster that faced San Jose.

The payroll of the missing Senators: $37,278,153 (not including Cody Goloubef who has been a healthy scratch all season).

The payroll for Sunday’s Senators 20-man roster: $37.7 million.

And they beat a Sharks team with a cap hit of $81.9 million.


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