Though the Washington Capitals entered Tuesday’s match-up against the Toronto Maple Leafs with three different defensive pairings, John Carlson appeared on all of them within about five minutes after puck drop. In fact, for the entire game, he seemed to spend more time on the ice than on the bench – he ended up logging over 27 minutes of ice time, which made up nearly half of the Capitals’ losing effort to the Leafs.
Heading into the 2017-18 campaign, it was no secret that the Washington Capitals needed their defensemen to step up, especially as the blue line looked to cope with the losses of key members of the d-corps in Nate Schmidt, Karl Alzner, and Kevin Shattenkirk. And though the management and coaching staff is relying on young prospects to make the NHL jump, as well as the veterans to step up to the plate, a lot more weight has been put on Carlson’s shoulders of late, especially in light of a long-term injury to Matt Niskanen.
“He put a lot of minutes on [Tuesday],” head coach Barry Trotz said of Carlson’s increased ice time. “I mean, he’s in probably the highest minutes of his career, I think, pretty close. I mean, 27:33 is pretty big minutes.”
Carlson Taking Charge
Over the course of the last few games, the 27-year-old Carlson has spent time paired with Christian Djoos, Aaron Ness, Dmitry Orlov, and Brooks Orpik, and has also been tasked with shutting down a lot of offensive threats on the opposition, most notably Toronto’s arsenal of young guns on Tuesday. He also has four assists in seven games this season and is balancing defensive responsibility well with offensive prowess.
“He had a lot of tough matchups,” Trotz said of Carlson’s workload against the Leafs. “You’re going against Matthews’ line a lot.”
Trotz has also mentioned his desire for the 6-foot-3, 218-pound defender to skate more minutes so that he can grow into the role of a top-pairing blueliner, especially with the Capitals’ defensive depth going into the rest of the year. For Carlson, however, increased ice time is not at all out of the ordinary as he continues to take on more responsibility.
“You just gotta push the pedal down,” Carlson said. “You can’t let up, those guys are too good. It’s something to work on. When you get more minutes, you don’t want to just float through them… that’s something I gotta work on and just keeping the pedal down all the time and elevating my game every single second of those minutes I’m getting.”
When it comes to adjusting to more ice time and overall, more responsibility, he also mentioned that it’s not something he notices in the heat of the moment.
“I think you don’t feel it until you get home,” Carlson said. “There’s a lot of adrenaline, a lot of stuff going on. It is what it is and you go in when the coach tells you to.”
High Praise from Holtby
Braden Holtby spoke highly of his teammate’s increased responsibility, but also mentioned that it is not something new. In fact, he believes Carlson has always played a strong game, and that he continues to evolve and move up the ranks each season.
“He’s done that in the past,” Holtby said of Carlson’s increased role. “He’s more than capable of doing it. He’s skating well right now. He looks comfortable with whatever partner he’s with. He’s taken on a bigger leadership role too with the young guys coming in, making sure they’re feeling comfortable… He’s an older guy now and we need him for that and he’s doing a really good job and he’s obviously a huge part of our success.”
Moving forward, Carlson will look to not only continue to take on big minutes, but fill the voids on offense and prove his worth as he not only handles more ice time but leads his teammates and serves as a mentor.
Sammi Silber covers the Capitals beat for The Hockey Writers and is an NHL contributor with Sporting News. She has also contributed to USA TODAY College, Huffington Post, FanSided and the Nation Network. Silber has written four books and recently worked on graphics for the film, The California Golden Seals Movie.