Reporting Colin Dunlap
PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) — Here’s a bit of unsolicited advice for the Pittsburgh Penguins’ forwards for the remainder of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Ottawa Senators — attack Erik Karlsson.
Yep, that’s correct, go right at the reigning James Norris Memorial Trophy winner.
That 6-foot, 185-pound, 22-year-old Swede who skates like a gale-force breeze and has off-the-charts skill? He’s a liability right now.
So make him pay.
Make the Ottawa Senators pay.
He’s a weak link; at least right now, in this very moment.
Crazy as all this sounds, as the Penguins took a 2-0 series advantage on Friday, with Game 3 headed to Ottawa on Sunday, Karlsson is hurting the Senators and, by extension, helping the Penguins.
There is generally something noble, a deep measure of gallantry and courage that comes with playing injured. One normally gains respect from his teammates for such an act, is lauded by fans and commands admiration from teammates.
But there is a definite threshold, and one that Karlsson is crossing that was ridiculously evident as the Penguins took Game 2 with a 4-3 victory at CONSOL Energy Center.
Truly, one can be too injured to play, can be out there trying to grit through an injury and — during the progression of such an event — be having a counterproductive impact on his team.
For me, that’s where Karlsson is for the Ottawa Senators.
If I’m a Pittsburgh Penguins forward (and again, this sounds crazy on the surface) but right now my eyes should be lighting up if Karlsson is the player charged with the duty of having to provide a measure of defense to offset my offensive skills.
Karlsson, who was injured when his Achilles was sliced by Matt Cooke’s skate in a game on Feb. 13, was embarrassed on that very same sheet of ice on Friday night.
Case in point, with the Penguins leading 1-0 in the first period, Sidney Crosby took a pass in the neutral zone and met a back-peddling Karlsson just as he was going to penetrate through the blue line. Crosby then faked as if he was going to dump the puck into the zone, but, rather, in one fluid motion, yanked the puck back inside, forcing Karlsson to glance down.
From there, Karlsson whiffed with both his stick and foot in an attempt to dispossess Crosby and, just a flash later, the lamp was lit, the crowd was chaotic.
Karlsson’s misplay — which was obviously related to his lack of mobility as he still is battling that Achilles injury — was the reason the game became 2-0 and Crosby was on his way to a hat trick.
Now let’s get something square here: There isn’t a ton of embarrassment to be extracted from getting made to look like a fool by Sidney Crosby, one of the finest talents to ever touch a hockey stick.
But, also fair is this: Karlsson isn’t some down-the-liner. No, he is, when healthy, also one of the world’s best.
Which gets us back to the most logical deduction — Karlsson is still very much injured, and, by extension, a liability to Ottawa’s efforts and an assistance to Pittsburgh’s.
In Game 2, Karlsson had 15:37 in ice time, compared to Game 1, when he tallied 26:58.
Of the reduction in time, Senators coach Paul MacLean said, “On our team, the best players play; Erik wasn’t one of the best players so he didn’t play.”
MacLean is onto something. Right now, playing as badly injured as he is, Karlsson isn’t one of the best players Ottawa has.
The Penguins need to recognize this, and take advantage of it, every time Karlsson is on the ice.
Former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Sports Writer Colin Dunlap is the featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weeknights from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.