John Carlson, Karl Alzner Making Strides in Washington
"Since we put them together, we have lost (once) in regulation," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said from the team's practice facility on Thursday. "That's pretty self-evident, I think. They are playing well. The more they play and the more situations they play in, the more they'll be relied on by veteran players. It doesn't happen overnight."
Alzner, 22, and Carlson, 20, had combined for 70 NHL games before the start of this season, but neither had been up with the big club at the same time -- not that that they weren't familiar with each other. The duo comprised the top defensive line and blue line combo for the Hershey (Pa.) Bears, winners of the last two Calder Cups.
"We know what to expect out of each other," said Carlson, who has nine points and is a plus-9. "It feels good that in every practice and every game, you're playing with the same person. You know where he's going to be and what he's going to do."
Boudreau put Carlson and Alzner together consistently when the Caps faced the Carolina Hurricanes on Oct. 27. Washington is 9-1-1 since and hasn't lost in regulation over the last eight games entering Friday's contest in Atlanta.
"Even since the start of the season, they have come a long ways," Caps defenseman Mike Green said. "They are like sponges right now. They are absorbing all this information and handling it really well."
In a league where young defensemen -- outside of Los Angeles Kings blue liner Drew Doughty and a handful of others -- aren't often given a whole lot of responsibility, Carlson and Alzner are on the Caps' second defensive line. Carlson has averaged 21 minutes, 44 seconds through the first 19 games, while Alzner has logged 18:24.
"It's pretty much what I expected it to be," said Alzne, who has three points and is a plus-4. "The guys have been great. It's nice to be winning obviously. The attitude around the rink isn't good when you're losing games. I hope I don't have to experience that."
Alas, it's something Alzner admits he's never had to deal with, from his days as a youngster in British Columbia through his time with Bears. Likewise, Carlson has seen his share of success elsewhere, including leading the U.S. to gold at the World Junior Championships with an overtime tally last January.
Now, they're with the reigning Presidents Trophy winners and the Caps are again leading the NHL standings nearly a quarter way through the season. Alzner said having the league's best offense led by the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom can often cover up defensive gaffes, not that the team glosses over them even after a victory.
"We see all those mistakes," Alzner said. "There been a lot of mental lapses where we forget where we need to be at times or we don't bear down and clear the puck. That's always unfortunate. It's nice we score all these goals."
Like Boudreau and long-serving Caps players, Alzner has already developed a chip on his shoulder when it comes to hockey punditry. Experts have pounded on the Caps for their defensive play, especially after Washington failed to hurdle the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs last season.
"It's funny when people talk about the other teams and say, `This team is really good,'" Alzner said. "Then they talk about us and say, 'Even though they win, they're doing this and this wrong.'"
Outside the rare miscue -- like when Buffalo Sabres forward Thomas Vanek skated through Alzner and Carlson in overtime on Nov. 13 for the game-winner -- the young duo haven't given the doubters much fodder.