Dixon: Factors beyond UFA additions will make Capitals a force

In our most recent issue, The Hockey News assigned every team a grade based on its off-season moves. Buffalo and San Jose both earned an A-minus for their terrific summer shuffles, but the only true ‘A’ handed out went to the Washington Capitals.

We loved the veteran savvy and grit Washington acquired when they brought in goalie Tomas Vokoun, defenseman Roman Hamrlik and forwards Troy Brouwer, Jeff Halpern and Joel Ward. But beyond those new faces, a couple other factors are going to help make the Caps a force this year. Namely, internal growth and the increasing hunger to finally get over the hump.

Speaking to the former point, one off-season transaction that didn’t get a ton of play outside the D.C. area was the re-signing of blueliner Karl Alzner. Last year, Alzner and fellow youngster John Carlson formed the Caps’ No. 1 tandem. The two have a notable history together, having won a pair of Calder Cups with the Hershey Bears in 2009 and ’10.

Said Carlson of the familiarity with his blueline buddy: “That’s big for your defense partner, you know him so well as a person and as a player, you know what he’s going to do out there and he knows what I’m going to do.”

Carlson, who was named to the all-rookie team in June, said once he and Alzner proved worthy of the coaching staff’s trust last year, the two just took off. Even accounting for some growing pains, this ‘D’ duo figures to be one of the league’s best pairings in very short order.

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As for their recent playoff shortcomings – the Caps haven’t advanced past Round 2 in the Alex Ovechkin Era, including last year’s second round sweep at the hands of Tampa Bay – questions about a team’s character inevitably arise. But don’t forget some of the toughest, yet necessary, sporting lessons are delivered through losing.

Carlson touched on that with regard to his club’s loss to the Lightning, while also alluding to the fact setbacks can cultivate a hunger in a team that eventually morphs into the extra bit of will required to finally become a winner.

“It’s a learning experience,” Carlson said about a month after the Caps were bounced. “Our team is a very young team still and we’ve got a chance to do something special for the next few years, so it definitely isn’t the end of the world.”

“But it’s not a good feeling, losing, no matter what happened. That wasn’t good enough for our team, we weren’t satisfied with our effort. We’ve just got to have a good summer now and get back into camp and remember what happened last year and try to learn from it and build and grow.”

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to His blog appears Wednesdays.

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