Even though Washington is still stuck in the grips of a crushing Game 7 loss in the opening round of the NHL playoffs, hockey fans here shouldn’t be down in the dumps about everything. How would Caps’ fans feel about a new defensive pairing next year featuring two bluechip young talents?
Well, Head Coach Bruce Boudreau all but confirmed that Karl Alzner and John Carlson will start the year with the big club.
“Karl and [John] were our two best players . . . I would venture to guess that I think they are ready for the NHL full time.”
Gabby’s statements are a ringing endorsement, considering that the rest of the D-pairings, sans Tom Poti, thoroughly underachieved in the postseason. Carlson and Alzner provide a stay at home presence and an offensive threat in one pairing. Even though they are young and will make mistakes, they are Washington’s two best skaters on the back end.
Together, the two provided pretty impressive stats. While Alzner only played one game, he managed to stay on the positive side of the +/-, something he couldn’t do during the regular season. Carlson was perhaps the team’s best player, with the exceptions of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Varly. He went +6 in the series, with three assists and a goal. Not only that, but he also earned himself the nickname Captain America.
What is most notable about the duo’s play in game 7 was when Boudreau decided to put them on the ice together. Both spent time on the penalty kill, and Carlson was featured on the power play. Not only that, but inside of five minutes remaining last Wednesday night, Boudreau threw Carlson on the ice and double-shifted him. He wasn’t double-shifting Mike Green, he wasn’t double-shifting Jeff Shultz, it was the young rookie Carlson who was getting a shoulder tap to take the ice and remain on it.
Faith is one of the most things a player can earn from his coach, and it sure seems that John Carlson has earned that already from Bruce Boudreau. As has Alzner. Mike Green showed he certainly isn’t a star in the postseason yet, and now he may not even be the team’s best defenseman. Quite a lofty statement, but with Carlson on the team, Green will certainly be challenged for the top spot. And that can only help the Caps.
While it was only one game, Alzer and Carlson had speed, chemistry and even a bit of a scoring threat while on the ice together. Inevttably they will form the Caps’ top pairing once they have more experience in the NHL. After the last three playoffs disappointments, there obviously needs to be some change on the back end. Bringing these two up for good may just be the centerpiece of that change.
One last thing to remember about Carlson and Alzner is that not only are they good, but they are winners and leaders. Both have won a Calder Cup in Hershey, and Carlson of course delivered gold for the Americans at the most recent the World Juniors. Alzner served as captain for Canada in the World Juniors. There is high-end skill and high-end leadership in this pairing.
Forget Shlutz and Green, bring on Alzner and Carlson. The new era for Washington defenseman starts now, and it starts with the two young guns that were featured in Game 7. Despite the loss, Washington can’t forget that the future is very bright, and bright on the back end. And while the hockey season ended way too prematurely in Washington, both John Carlson and Karl Alzner are partnered again and playing hockey this spring, up in Hershey. Their pairing there offers a terrific preview of one we’ll see in D.C. come fall.