Every season, Washington Capitals defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner have a friendly little competition: who can score the most even-strength points.
"This year," Alzner said, "I have absolutely no chance. We may have to tweak the rules a bit."
Right now, Carlson is up six points to four, but clearly Alzner sees where things are heading. Toss in his six power play points and Carlson is one of the top-scoring D-men in the NHL and if his first-star performance against Boston Thursday night is any indication, the offense is not drying up anytime soon.
“He's putting a lot of pucks at the net and he has fine-tuned a lot of the offensive parts of his game," Alzner said. "Him and (assistant coach) Todd (Reirden) work on it all the time. He's able to get pucks away really fast now, he's able to pick them off the boards and make something happen with it. It's pretty fun to watch, actually.”
For years, Mike Green was the first name that leapt to mind when you thought of Washington blueliners, but a changing of the guard became obvious more recently and now Green is wearing the winged wheel in Detroit. Though veterans Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik came in as free agents with a lot of fanfare, Carlson is the one driving the bus right now, playing in all situations and against tough competition. It's not easy to be the man, but Carlson also won't shrink from the responsibility.
“That's always the goal, to be the best you can be," he said. "But I just come to work and do my best; wherever that places me, so be it. I'm here to contribute as much as I can in all facets.”
So how good is Carlson? The points are there, not to mention the penalty-killing duty on a unit that ranks among the best in the NHL. His possession numbers are good, though to really appreciate his efforts you have look at his tough quality of competition. He and partner Orpik have the toughest assignments among the Caps' defense, which drags his overall number down. The two also have developed a nice working relationship, now in its second year.
“He's a steady horse," Carlson said of Orpik. "I can always count on him to be in certain situations. If I get in trouble and need to put the puck in a certain area, it's seldom that he's not there.”
So what about a Norris Trophy? I'm not saying that Carlson is a favorite, but he should at least be in the conversation at this point, especially if the Caps continue to be one of the best teams in the league. Washington certainly has the scoring and the goaltending (courtesy Braden Holtby) and that 'D' corps is pretty good, so the ultimate in team glory may also be on the table.
Carlson has some pretty good clutch credentials, if a Stanley Cup happens to be on the line. Way back in 2010, it was his overtime goal on the rush that lifted Team USA over the host Canadians at the world juniors. I remember thinking he was trouble when he got the puck then and sure enough, Carlson made no mistake on his shot. With the confidence he is playing with at the NHL level, expect more heroics in the future.