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Senators' Karlsson set to make season debut on Tuesday

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) Fresh off a romp through Western Canada, the Ottawa Senators are getting a huge momentum boost with the return of superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson.

The Senators' captain will be back in the lineup Tuesday when the Vancouver Canucks visit a surging Ottawa team looking for its fourth win in a row.

Karlsson missed the first five games of the regular season, including a recent three-game road sweep of Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton, as he recovered from offseason ankle surgery.

"I had the appropriate amount of time to get ready to play again and it's exciting," Karlsson said on Monday after practice.

"I'm going to be a little bit rusty probably, but it's better to get back into things as early as possible and hopefully it will get better as we move along."

Coach Guy Boucher couldn't hide his excitement at having his star defenseman back in the lineup.

"I think he's the best player in the world," Boucher said. "It just brings you basically an impact on everything - your breakouts, your transition, your (offensive) zone, your power play, your defensive play, it's your leader. He is who he is. He has such a presence. It's not just a hockey player, it's everything around it, too, and it's time."

While Karlsson usually leads the Senators in ice time Boucher said, "we're going to try to be smart here. We don't need him to play 35 minutes. It's going to be more about him, what he can take."

Karlsson had surgery for fractured tendons in his left foot and has been honest about his recovery.

"It feels different and it's going to be different for a long time probably," Karlsson said.

"It's something I'm going to have to get used to. Again, I think playing is going to be the best way to adapt to that and getting back to a new normal, but there's definitely going to be some struggles throughout the process and it's just something I'm going to have to deal with and not something I'm too concerned with either. It is what it is."

At practice Monday, Karlsson was paired with Dion Phaneuf, but Boucher said not to buy too much into his pairings as things could change very quickly during the game Tuesday.

The Senators (3-0-2) handled Karlsson's early season absence.

"We did well without him and a lot of people talked about the word survive before he gets back," Boucher said. "I think the players should get all the credit for not just surviving, but really growing and everyday wanting to get better."

The Senators are better with Karlsson in the lineup, but having success without him could prove to be indispensable to a team whose identity is so tightly formed around its captain.

"Knowing that we can pull the load without him helps morale and helps everything like that," winger Bobby Ryan said.

"We knew we'd be missing him a little longer and we were prepared for that and addressed the guys that needed to step up and guys did."

Karlsson has led the Senators in scoring the past four seasons and his offense was going to be missed.

Yet in his absence the Senators scored 19 goals, and perhaps most impressive has been the offensive contributions from the back end.

Chris Wideman has three goals and an assist, Cody Ceci has two goals and an assist and Phaneuf has a goal and two assists.

Last season Wideman didn't score his first goal until 15 games in and had five on the season, while Ceci didn't score until his 35th game and finished the season with just two.

"We said it all along last year that the strength of this team is that it's a team, it's not just a bunch of individuals," Boucher said.

"They've grown to not just like each other, but play for each other and care and it shows on the ice. For me as a coach if I compare this time of the year to last year it's night and day."

Craig Anderson will get the start Tuesday. He made 26 saves in a 3-2 shootout win over the Canucks last week.

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Updated October 16, 2017

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