Karlsson's return highly chronicled

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Thrity-one games after his Achilles tendon was sliced in that well-documented collision, Erik Karlsson's comeback was superb theater.

Canadian papers declared his recovery miraculous as the smooth skating 22-year-old dished up two primary assists against the Washington Capitals right on cue in his first game back.

Now, amid the Eastern Conference semifinals, it's clear he's not exactly at 100 percent.

But to the Ottawa Senators, Karlsson in the lineup is better than no Erik Karlsson.

"It didn't look good for a long period of time," said Karlsson. "Here I am. At least I'm standing up."

Karlsson shouldered the most minutes of any player on the team Tuesday in Game 1 -- 26:58 -- and has surprised even himself with this quick return. "A little bit. I never shut it down completely but I didn't expect to come back, and I didn't have very high hopes in case I didn't. So a nice surprise to get to."

His stall was flooded with reporters Thursday, angling to get a beat on his comeback and when exactly he believed he'd be on the ice again this season. Karlsson said he figured somewhere around Week 9 of his rehab process that he would be able to return this season.

He had surgery Feb. 14 for the lacerated tendon and set his sights on a methodical rehab process. Early prognosis on the recovery time was grim. But as time passed his body responded.

"I knew it wasn't going to be easy, especially going pretty much straight into the playoffs," said Karlsson. "The game changed up from regular season to playoff season. You just have to deal with the situation."

Karlsson had just come off a Norris Trophy-winning season and had established himself as one of the premier offensive defensemen in the league.

To understand the difference of Karlsson before the injury and Karlsson now, just ask his defensive partner Marc Methot.

"I hate saying it because I don't like to think he's retracted from his game," Methot said. "I'd like to think that before he kind of slowed the entire game down. When he had the puck teams kind of froze. Was he going to make a long breakout pass? Or dangle two guys then make that pass?

"That was what he had as a weapon I think. It's still there. But I think mentally he's maybe a little more hesitant to do those things."

On the other side of the ice, that hesitation has been noted.

"You know you can tell a little bit the way he's skating and turning from what he was before," said Penguins defenseman Paul Martin. "I think you definitely can tell he's not 100 percent. But if he gets anywhere near there, he's a threat to create from the back end.

"He's one of the best in the league at bringing the puck up the ice, finding open guys, creating offense from the back end."

Senators coach Paul MacLean agreed that Karlsson is not back to where he was, but stressed that it's OK.

"I don't think he's played close to what he was playing before he got injured," said MacLean. "He was a dominant, dominant player, possibly the best player in the league at the time of his injury. No, his play hasn't been up to the level of that. And our expectation wasn't that it would be at that level."

MacLean said his greatest value at this point is his ability to handle and dish the puck on the power play, an area of concern after going 0 for 5 Tuesday.

"Our expectation is that Erik is going to make us a better team because of his abilities to move the puck and help us on the power play, to quarterback that," said MacLean. "Our expectation isn't that he's the Norris Trophy [winning] Erik Karlsson. We just want him to come out and play and help our team win, and let his teammates help him."

penguins

Jenn Menendez: jmenendez@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1959 and Twitter @JennMenendez.


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