Two Hart Trophy candidates will square off when the
Ottawa Senators host the Chicago Blackhawks at Canadian Tire Centre
In one corner, Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson. In the other,
Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane.
"He's the complete package," Senators coach Guy Boucher said
Wednesday of his captain, who trails only San Jose's Brent Burns in
scoring by blue-liners and also leads the league in blocked shots.
Asked if Karlsson deserves Hart consideration as well as to win the
Norris Trophy, Boucher was emphatic in his response.
"Oh my God, absolutely, 100 percent," he said. "With what he's done
this year, the way he's done it, I can't imagine better. I just
can't. Right now, it's absolutely sublime, it really is. In every
aspect, leadership, on ice, off ice, he's at the core of what we're
trying to do."
What the Senators (39-22-7) have done so far is become contenders
for first place in the Atlantic Division, trailing only the
Montreal Canadiens by one point with two games in hand. Last year
they missed the playoffs by 11 points.
Meanwhile, with a goal and two assists in Tuesday's 4-2 win over
the Canadiens that bumped Chicago (44-20-5) past the Minnesota Wild
and into first in the Central Division, Kane moved himself into a
tie for the NHL scoring lead with 76 points.
In the last nine games, he has 11 goals and 16 points.
After Wednesday's practice at Canadian Tire Centre, Blackhawks
coach Joel Quenneville was asked if Kane is playing better than he
did last season, when he won the Hart.
"I see Kaner every single year get a little bit better," said
Quenneville. "He gets a little bit faster, quicker, he gets the
puck, he demands the puck, and once he has it, he does so many good
things with it. He's shooting the puck as good as he ever as too."
The Blackhawks have learned they will be without center Artem
Anisimov for 3-4 weeks with a lower body injury he suffered in
Montreal. It's hoped that Anisimov, who was having a career year
with 45 points, will be back before Chicago plays its regular
season finale on April. 8.
Nick Schmaltz is expected to move into his spot between Kane and
Artemi Panarin on the first line. Former third round pick John
Hayden is expected to make his NHL debut in Ottawa, likely starting
the game as a winger for Jonathan Toews.
The Senators said on Wednesday that a lower body injury suffered by
goalie Craig Anderson will keep him out of the lineup for a second
straight game, but is not serious. Anderson skated before the
team's practice and is considered day-to-day.
Mike Condon will start in goal for Ottawa on Thursday. Condon made
23 saves when the Senators defeated the Blackhawks 4-3 in Chicago
on Dec. 20, the only meeting between the teams this season.
The teams split in 2015-16, with the Senators scoring a 4-3
overtime victory in Ottawa.