Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen do not receive nearly enough credit around the NHL for their solid defensive play. With injuries to both Brooks Orpik and John Carlson on the top defensive pairing, Alzner and Niskanen have been asked to step up and increase their minutes anchoring the top blue line pairing.
Both Alzner and Niskanen have played in every game this season and last season. Karl Alzner’s current ironman streak is at 416 consecutive games, 6 games shy of the Capitals’ franchise record 422 straight games held by Bobby Carpenter. The fact that both of these guys are able to play every single night after blocking shots, delivering big hits, and playing large sums of minutes is absolutely remarkable.
Alzner is not known for his offensive abilities, but he has displayed large improvements this season. He is getting more involved in the rush this season, and he’s on pace for a career high in points this season. Niskanen has been a key contributor on the power play, and currently ranks 5th on the team with 15 assists to go along with his 2 goals.
Both of these guys are excellent at pinning guys against the boards, which allows other Caps players to come in and take the puck away. This blue-line pairing is also excellent at blocking shots, which makes Braden Holtby’s job a lot easier. Niskanen ranks in the top 30 in the NHL in blocks, and after his absolutely stellar performance against the Rangers today (7 blocks), Karl Alzner now ranks third in the NHL in blocked shots with 111 already this season.
The Caps are definitely looking forward to having Orpik and Carlson back once they recover from injury, but right now Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen are doing a great job of handling the increased blue-line responsibility. They have solidified themselves as one of the premier defensive pairings in the NHL, and they both deserve more credit.
By Gabe Mead