Through the Capitals’ first 16 games this season, normally productive defenseman John Carlson has only seven assists. And while some people have been highly critical of the 26-year old blueliner, his struggles have not been entirely his fault.
The problem is not Carlson’s play, he’s still fully capable of playing solid defense and producing offensively, but who his defense partner is. After playing primarily with stay-at-home defenseman Brooks Orpik for the majority of the last two seasons, the offensive-minded Carlson has been paired with equally-minded Dmitry Orlov this season. And while the pair have looked good so far, it’s not as great a match as it first appears.
With Orpik, Carlson had the ability to jump into the offensive rush without worrying about sacrificing defense, as Orpik’s solid defensive play was something of a safety cushion. In Carlson’s first full season with Orpik as his primary partner, Carlson recorded a career-high 12 goals and 55 points. The problem with Orlov is that he too is firstly an offensive-minded blueliner and is willing to jump up into the rush as well. This is forcing Carlson to take on more defensive responsibility and serve in the same role as Orpik did for him.
While Orlov’s production has benefited from playing with Carlson (one goal, four assists), Carlson’s production has taken a hit from playing with Orlov. Some may argue that Carlson has a chance to garner some goals in the power play, and while that is true, the first and second power play units’ playing time has seemingly been more balanced than in years past.
If Carlson or Orlov were paired with more defensive-minded partners, there’s no doubt that both players’ production would increase. While both have played well together overall, the problem is that arguably, the Caps’ best defenseman is not producing at the level he should be, and for a team that has relied on offensive production from the blueline in recent years, that is going to be a concern come playoff time.
By Michael Fleetwood