OTTAWA – With each passing day, the whispers of Erik Karlsson as a Norris Trophy candidate get a little louder.
The Senators defenceman was instrumental for his team again Wednesday with a goal and two assists as Ottawa jumped out to a 4-0 lead and never looked back in defeating the Washington Capitals 5-2.
Karlsson has 12 points in his last five games and his 60 points on the season gives the Swede a 20-point cushion on Florida’s Brian Campbell for the scoring lead by defencemen.
The 21-year-old also set a new franchise record Wednesday for assists by a defenceman in a season with 47. And he’s just four points shy of a new franchise mark for points by a defenceman in a season, set by Norm Maciver in 1992-93.
“It could be something you look back to after the season, but right now it doesn’t really matter that much,” said Karlsson, who had two goals and two assists in Monday’s 6-0 win over the New York Islanders. “I think we have 70 or 72 points in the standings and right now that’s what matters.
“We have to keep getting two points and try not to give away any.”
Milan Michalek added two goals and an assist for Ottawa (32-22-8), while Chris Phillips, with his fourth goal in six games, also scored. Nick Foligno, with his first goal in 19 games, iced the game into an empty net with just over a minute to play in the third.
Craig Anderson made 33 saves to pick up the win.
John Carlson and Mathieu Perreault replied for the Capitals (29-26-5). Tomas Vokoun allowed four goals on 11 shots before being replaced midway through the second period by Michal Neuvirth. He finished with 14 saves.
Ottawa jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period on the back of Karlsson.
The smooth-skating defenceman opened the scoring at the nine-minute mark with a shot that beat Vokoun through the legs. Karlsson then fed Michalek five minutes later and he made a great move around Dennis Wideman before beating Vokoun from in close.
“(Karlsson) is one of our best players,” Anderson said. “He brings it every night. He’s found that consistency in his game and we can count on him for big minutes offensively as well as defensively right now.”
Michalek added his second of the night on a deflection off a Karlsson point shot on the power play early in the second. Michalek’s 27th of the season set a new career-high.
“It’s nice, but I want to keep going,” Michalek said. “It’s a long season and I’ve had my struggles, but hopefully it’s back now. I have my confidence and hopefully it’s going to keep going now.”
Vokoun’s night came to an end after Phillips made it 4-0 on the power play midway through the second.
The Senators have outscored opponents 21-4 in their last four games. Coach Paul MacLean attributes that to the team rediscovering its identity after a slump coming out of the all-star break.
“We’ve gotten back to that work ethic based game that we play 200 feet for 60, 65 minutes and we kind of found ourselves again,” MacLean said. “We’re getting contributions from everyone offensively and the structure of our team play has been very good and the attention to detail in the defensive zone is getting better.
“As a result our goals against is getting better and we’re creating way more offence out of the way we play defence.”
With just one victory in their last seven starts, the Capitals are desperate to get their post-season push back on track. It didn’t help that Alex Ovechkin missed the game with a lower body injury and is listed as day-to-day.
Despite being down, Washington showed some jump in the third period to cut the Ottawa lead to 4-2.
“I don’t think we were really that bad,” Washington forward Troy Brouwer said. “We got behind real quick on a couple miscues in the D-zone, but I thought we were able to battle back a little bit. We just dug ourselves too big of a hole to come back up.”
Carlson finally got the Capitals on the board with a power-play goal early in the third and Perreault made it 4-2 on a play that saw the puck go off his face and past Anderson.
Perreaulty dropped to the ice and had to be helped to the bench for repairs.
While the two goals gives the Capitals something to build on, Brouwer added moral victories are hollow at this time of year.
“You can take things from it, but at the end of the day we needed to have a better start and have a better effort and get two points because that’s all that matters right now,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to get points to start climbing the standings.”
Notes: With an assist on Karlsson’s goal, Jason Spezza extended his point streak (seven goals, nine assists) to seven games. … The Senators were without C Peter Regin (shoulder, out for season), C Jesse Winchester (concussion, out indefinitely). D Matt Carkner and C Zenon Konopka were a healthy scratch. … The Capitals were without Ovechkin (lower body, day-to-day), D Tom Poti (strained groin, out indefinitely), C Nicklas Backstrom (concussion, out indefinitely). D John Erskine and D Roman Hamrlik were a healthy scratches. … Despite the loss, Washington won the season series with Ottawa 3-1.