Alex Ovechkin has been absolutely tearing up the league in January, earning himself First Star of the Month honors, but he is not the only one on the Washington Capitals doing great things. John Carlson, who took the hockey world by storm for the first half of the season, is continuing to have a Norris Trophy-worthy season. His 65 points lead both the Capitals and all NHL defensemen, which makes him 10th in the NHL in points. His 51 assists are second in the NHL, trailing only Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl. While he has been overshadowed by Ovechkin of late, he has continued to produce at a high rate, and not only is he leading the way for the Norris, he is making a little Capitals history of his own.
While Ovechkin is chasing 700 goals and passing Hall of Famer after Hall of Famer along the way, Carlson has been quietly reaching his own milestones in franchise history. He has been passing some records and creeping up on others, and he will likely be the leader in every important statistical category for Capitals defensemen when it’s all said and done. On Jan. 31 against the Ottawa Senators, he passed Calle Johansson for first place in franchise history for assists by a defenseman. His game-winning goal against the New Jersey Devils on Dec. 20 tied him for first in Capitals history among defenseman, and one more game-winning goal will give him first all by himself.
Carlson is very close to passing a few more historic franchise milestones as well. He is currently seven points back of passing Calle Johansson for the most points by a defenseman in Capitals history. More importantly, he is approaching the Capitals single-season record for points by a defenseman. Larry Murphy currently holds that title with 81 points, and Carlson, currently with 65 points on the season, is well on his way to shattering that record. At this point, it’s not a question of if he can break that single-season record, but by how much. How high can he go? Is it possible for him to reach 100 points?
The Quest for 100 Points
A defenseman reaching 100 points in a season is a historic feat. If Carlson were able to reach that achievement, it would put him in very exclusive company. There have only been 14 100-point seasons for a defenseman in NHL history, and it has only been accomplished by five different players: Bobby Orr (six times), Paul Coffey (five times), Al MacInnis, Brian Leetch, and Denis Potvin (all one time each). The feat was last accomplished by Leetch in 1991-92, and Carlson looks to be the next. His torrid pace to start the season had him projected to break 100 points easily, but he has slowed down a little bit since. It seems within his grasp, but can he do it for real?
Currently, Carlson is at a 1.20 points per game pace. A full season at that pace gets him to 98.4 points. If you isolate the number of remaining games the Capitals have to play (28) and you apply that points per game pace to those games, that gets him to 33.6 additional points, which gets him to a grand total of 98.6 points on the season. That is so tantalizingly close to 100. So the answer is yes, it is very possible that he can do it, and it’s likely that he does, but he is going to need a little boost at the end of the season to push him that last little bit over the edge.
Heat Up the Power Play
So, how can he boost his numbers? There are a lot of answers to this question, but the best course of action is to get the power play rolling again. Of late, the Capitals’ power play has been dreadful. They are out of sync, they have a difficult time keeping up the pressure, and, to make matters worse, they have given up nine shorthanded goals on the season, with seven of them coming since Dec. 23.
That is not good at all. The power play has slipped down to 20.0%, which is currently 12th in the league. The last time the Capitals scored multiple power play goals in one game was Dec. 28 in a 6-4 loss against the Carolina Hurricanes. That was well over a month ago, and there has been little to write home about since then. For a team with this much offensive force and a power play that has been historically dominant for so long, this level of futility is not acceptable.
Carlson, the quarterback of the power play, would benefit from a more fruitful man advantage. His production has suffered from the lack of success: his last power play point was Jan. 31 against the Senators, but it was an empty net goal, so that does not really count. Before that, his last power play point was Jan. 16 against the Devils. It has been almost a month since he has truly been able to reap the benefits of the power play, and for someone who makes a good chunk of his living on the point of that unit (20 of his 65 points are on the power play), getting the power play working again would be a big step in his quest for 100 points. Get that working again and go on a hot streak, and that might be all he needs to etch his name into history.