With less than a month until the end of the regular season, Erik Karlsson is still your league leader in blocked shots.
Don’t call him a one-dimensional blueliner.
With 178 blocked shots, Karlsson is 19 up on second place Calvin De Haan and Ian Cole. Kris Russell, your more traditional leader in this stat, has Karlsson beat in average blocked shots per game at 3.0, since he’s played 13 fewer games than has the Senators’ Norris Trophy candidate (Karlsson is at 2.7 per game).
“Erik knows this team had to improve on the defensive side, and that’s where he’s leading,” Senators coach Guy Boucher said back in November.
“It’s been a total treat having him be this way because that’s what the team needs.
“Erik is at a point in his career where he’s done it all individually. He’s the best offensive defenceman. He’s got the awards that come with it and the recognition. Now as a captain — he’s 26 — he wants to win.”
Under Boucher this season, Karlsson’s ice time has dropped to an average of 26:40 per game, which isn’t much of a drop considering he still ranks fifth in the league. As Brent Burns gets all the attention and Norris Trophy buzz with 27 goals (more than twice as many as the next highest-scoring defenceman) and is in the running for the Art Ross with 70 points, Karlsson is fine-tuning the parts of his game that were criticized by people who didn’t think he was a good choice for the best-defenceman trophy in 2012 or 2015.
Oh ya, and with 61 points he’s still second in blueliner scoring, just nine points behind Burns.
On Hockey Night in Canada, Kelly Hrudey talked about Karlsson’s shot-blocking prowess and how he gets more out of it than does someone like Russell.
“He does it a little bit differently if you ask me,” Hrudey said. “He’s really good because of his skating ability to get right out to the guy who’s shooting the puck and it’s maybe a little bit different than some of the other guys and it also leads to great offence.
“Maybe a Kris Russell might come back to the net a little bit more. He’s figured out how to generate some scoring from it.”
Karlsson’s improvement in the shot-blocking department didn’t happen over night — he’s been working on it and improving for a few seasons. In 2014-15, when he won his second Norris, Karlsson ranked 125th in blocked shots (1.09 per game). In 2015-16, he nearly doubled his rate to 2.13 blocks per game and ranked 11th overall in the category.
And that’s not all, as Nick Kypreos pointed out when Karlsson won his two Norris’ his shorthanded time on ice was around 45 minutes for the whole season — this year he’s at 145 minutes.
It’s probably the most well-rounded season he’s had in his career, but it seems like a long shot he’ll win his third Norris.
Ironically, it’s Burns’ superior offensive season that is drowning out any gains Karlsson has made on defence.