Photo: Associated Press

Like the Blackhawks, the Ottawa Senators sit in sixth place in their conference. The difference is, Ottawa has won 6 of their last 7; Chicago… hasn’t. The Senators are on a tear, and they’re looking to repeat their filibuster of Boston when the Blackhawks take the ice tonight.

What has caused this surge? The main reason for it is a name you likely have never heard before: Erik Karlsson.

Erik Karlsson is a 3rd-year pro, 21 years old, stands 6′ even and weighs in at 180 lbs. He has 15 goals and 51 assists this season. He’s particularly hot right now: in his last 8 games he has racked up 8 goals (including 3 game-winners) and 11 assists.

Oh, did I mention that Karlsson’s a DEFENSEMAN?

The kid is en fuego, to say the least, and Ottawa fans are nominating him for the Norris, the Hart, and any additional accolades they can think of. He sits second on the team in scoring, with only the three top forwards Jason Spezza, Daniel Alfredson and Milan Michalek tallying more goals; and is second on the team in plus-minus to boot with a +15. If Ottawa makes the playoffs, it will be on this kids’ back — plain and simple.

Although there is a goaltending component to the Senators’ success also. Go-to starter, Park Ridge native, and former Blackhawk Craig Anders(s)on was placed on injured reserve with a finger injury last weekend, and Swedish youngster Robin Lehner has been given the torch to carry. Lehner has done the Binghamton two-step about a dozen times over the last two seasons, with Alex Auld holding down the fort as the usual backup. But as Lehner boasts a 1.33 GAA and a save percentage of .954, the job is his to lose. A 1-0 shutout of Boston on Tuesday said a lot for his chances.

For the Blackhawks, there isn’t a lot of news to pass along. Captain Jonathan Toews didn’t make the trip; Niklas Hjalmarsson did travel and is improving, but is a scratch for tonight; and there is no update on injured defenseman Steve Montador. Head Coach Joel Quenneville has announced Ray Emery as the starter tonight, and prevailing opinion is that if we see that happen again on Sunday against Detroit, you can close the book on Corey Crawford for the rest of the season.

Chicago is playing with 6 rookies in the lineup, and the newest newcomers did exactly what they were asked to do in their first game back with the big club against Toronto. Andrew Shaw won a puck battle along the boards, darted out from the corner, juked his way past a defender and snapped one into the twine. And Brandon Bollig (this kid needs a nickname, people: let’s get on that) threw the first punches in his NHL career by laying a few knuckle sandwiches on Maple Leafs defenseman Luke Schenn. Energy, scoring, violence. Git some.

Rookie defenseman Dylan Olsen had his minutes reduced with the acquisition of newcomer Johnny Oduya, but was solid on the third pairing with Sammi Lepisto. Oduya for his part had one shot and a flat plus-minus during his 19+ minutes in his Blackhawks debut. Now, that doesn’t tell the entire story, as Oduya was on the ice for the first 3 Leafs goals against, but his stats flattened out with the Blackhawks’ comeback in the 2nd and 3rd periods.

Now, prepare yourselves, but I am going to pay a compliment to Nick Leddy. I know, this comes as a shock to most of you: sit down if you have to. During a clearing attempt in the Toronto zone, Leddy had the puck bounce towards him with a Leafs winger having gotten a few strides’ head start in his direction. Leddy could have stood fast and attempted to corral the bouncing puck and hold the zone (as he normally would). But if he failed (as he normally would) then he would have allowed either an odd-man rush or a clean breakaway for the Leafs.

But he didn’t. He took a passing swipe at the puck as he turned and IMMEDIATELY started in full stride back towards his own zone. He was able to poke-check the winger before reaching the Blackhawks’ blue line and regain possession in the neutral zone, and the Leafs never got behind him. That is the kind of defensive instinct Leddy has not shown in the past, and the fact that he displayed this behavior in a pressure situation is a clear indicator that his defensive game is changing for the better.

Administrative nonsense: forwards Peter Regin and Jesse Winchester, plus the afore-mentioned Anders(s)on are in the press box for Ottawa; Toews, Hjalmarsson and Montador sit out for Chicago. And as mentioned, the goaltending duel is between Lehner and Emery — who, along with Marian Hossa, returns to Ottawa to face his former team for his first game in over a year.

Early start on the east coast tonight, 6:00pm puck drop. It’s another nation-wide broadcast north of the border, shown on both TSN et aussi en francais sur RDS2; Chicago viewers will see the game on Comcast SportsNet. Broadcast radio is on WGN AM-720; XM subscribers can find the game on channel 92; and Sirius Premiere customers should look for the game on channel 207.

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