The Kids Are Alright: the Rise of Carlson and Alzner

Carlson (74) and Alzner (27) defend against the Panthers (Tom Turk/THW)

When defensemen come into the National Hockey League, they rarely make a splash.  Defense is a position that, if done right, doesn’t draw much attention.  Defensemen are more likely to be noticed by the naked eye for mistakes rather than triumphs.  This tradition has been tossed out the window with the emergence of John Carlson and Karl Alzner of the Washington Capitals.

Alzner, a 22 year-old 5th overall draft pick in 2007, first started playing with Carlson in the 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs.  After Carlson’s season ended in junior with the London Knights, he joined the AHL’s Hershey Bears in an effort to help them to the Calder Cup.  After a successful run, Carlson (soon-to-be 21 year-old) was paired with Alzner on a regular basis for the Bears during the 2009-2010 season.

The pair was dominant at the AHL level.  Carlson was given the green light to jump into the play offensively, and he took advantage, racking up 4 goals and 39 points in 48 games for the Bears.  Alzner was tasked with the stay-at-home role, recovering when Carlson would occasionally get caught up in a play.  They combined for a plus-71 rating in 104 combined games.  When they both made the opening night roster in October, they hoped to reignite their chemistry.

While they didn’t start off together, Bruce Boudreau eventually allowed the two to play together.  The payoffs lately have been huge.  The pair was matched up with Montreal’s top line December 28th.  The result: a 3-0 shutout win.

They were called upon again on Saturday on a much larger stage: the Winter Classic.  Carlson and Alnzer were matched up against Sidney Crosby for most of the game, meaning high ice-times.  Again, the result was a Capitals’ victory, and the Pittsburgh captain was held without a point.

The pair was used against a team’s top line for the third straight game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a task requiring them to shut down Martin St. Louis and goal-scoring leader Steven Stamkos.  That line was unable to strike until OT, when they got out on a mismatch against Tom Poti.

“They’re not on for any goals against,” Bruce Boudreau said of the pair after the 1-0 OT loss to the Lightning, “Alzner and Carlson are doing everyone you ask them and more.  They’re doing a great job.”  Carlson is a strong Calder Trophy candidate for Rookie of the Year as well, with 4 goals, 17 points, and a plus-11 rating through 42 games.

With the coach’s approval, hopefully they will be able to continue playing together.  Each has said time and time again the comfort level they have with each other and how much they like playing together.  They’ve come up through the ranks together, and there’s nothing they’d enjoy more than raising the Stanley Cup together in Washington.


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