If this month hasn't already been difficult enough, the Ottawa Senators now have to overcome the loss of a reigning Norris Trophy winner.
The short-handed Senators will play their first game without Erik Karlsson when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday night.
After starting the season 5-1-1, Ottawa has had plenty of trouble this month with a 2-4-1 mark. Injuries to Jason Spezza (back), Guillaume Latendresse (whiplash) and Peter Regin (chest) haven't helped, but the Senators' prospects appear even more grim now.
The team announced on Valentine's Day that Karlsson was out for the season after his left Achilles' tendon was cut by Pittsburgh forward Matt Cooke's skate in a 4-2 road defeat a day earlier. The NHL did not hand out any further discipline after reviewing the play, but Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray said he was more concerned with the loss of his high-scoring defenseman to surgery.
"I'm outraged by the fact we lost Erik Karlsson," he said. "I'm disappointed for him, I'm disappointed for the players on our team and the coaching staff and the fans of the city."
Karlsson's career-high 78 points in 2011-12 were 25 more than any other NHL defender, and he had a team-best six goals and four assists in the first 14 games this season.
"We don't replace Erik Karlsson. We don't have anybody in that category of player," Murray said. "We hope that other people eat up his minutes and that we don't allow many goals. (Goaltender) Craig Anderson has to be great. Our defense has to be great and hopefully we find, by committee, a way to score some goals."
The Senators (7-5-2) will also likely not have forward Milan Michalek available after he twisted his knee before Wednesday's loss, but they will next face a team that's without its No. 1 goaltender.
James Reimer is expected to miss at least a couple more days after straining a left knee ligament in the Maple Leafs' fourth straight win Monday against Philadelphia. Ben Scrivens was in net during a 3-1 defeat in Carolina on Thursday, giving up all of those goals in the second period.
"It's disappointing because we know we could have played a better game," defenseman Dion Phaneuf said. "We've been doing a lot of real good things lately but it's the best league in the world for a reason. When you have off nights, teams are going to make you pay and that's what happened."
The Maple Leafs (8-6-0) outscored the Senators 8-1 while winning last season's final two matchups, but both of those games were in Ottawa with Reimer in net. Toronto is 1-3-1 in its last five home games against its Northeast Division rivals and is 2-4-0 at the Air Canada Centre this season.
The teams split their six overall matchups in 2011-12 and the Maple Leafs' Phil Kessel played a big role in his team's wins, totaling five goals and four assists. Kessel's 20 goals and 34 points against the Senators are the best versus any team over his career.
Anderson is 2-2-0 with a 3.66 goals-against average in his last five starts against Toronto after going 4-1-0 with a 1.56 GAA in his first five. Before giving up a season-high four goals Wednesday in the second game of a back-to-back, Anderson was 7-2-2 with a 1.36 GAA in his first 11 contests.
Scrivens allowed three goals on 22 shots in his only matchup with Ottawa, a 5-2 loss in Toronto on Nov. 12, 2011.
The Associated Press News Service
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