Many Washington Capitals fans were happy to turn the page on May 2017 after yet another Round 2 elimination in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A player that could be part of that turnover is the player on the June page of the Capitals’ annual Canine Calendar as well as the Capitals team calendar. The player is longtime defenseman Karl Alzner, who is likely going to depart the team in free agency this summer. So, when June ends, the turning of the page on the Caps-themed calendars will also likely represent the turning of the page on a longtime player on the team. In this piece, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle looks at some of the memorable moments in Alzner’s Capitals career.
It was back in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft that the Capitals drafted a young left-handed defenseman from Burnaby, British Columbia named Karl Alzner with the fifth overall pick. Prior to joining the Caps, he had played junior hockey with the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League (WHL) and had represented Team Canada in the 2007 World Junior Championships, where Canada won the gold medal. He returned to the Hitmen for the 2007-2008 season, played on another gold medal-winning World Junior squad for Canada, and then started his professional career.
Hershey Bears and Call-up in November 2008
Alzner was assigned to the Capitals’ American Hockey League affiliate the Hershey Bears to start the 2008-2009 season, being one of the team’s last cuts. However, due to a rash of injuries to the Caps’ roster during November 2008, especially on the blueline, he was called up on November 26, along with fellow defenseman Sami Lepisto and forwards Chris Bourque and Graham Mink. Alzner made his NHL debut that evening against the Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets) in a game the Capitals won. After just one game, Alzner switched his uniform number from the originally assigned 47 to his more desired number of 27, which he had worn in juniors in honor of Hockey Hall of Famer Scott Niedermayer.
At one point in December, Alzner and Capitals defenseman Milan Jurcina had become the Caps’ top defensive-pairing by default, as the blueline was so badly decimated. He was sent back to Hershey on January 29, 2009.
For that season and for the next season as well, he would be shuttled back and forth between Hershey and the Capitals. He started off the 2009-2010 season with Hershey, as well. He’d be called up, only to be eventually sent back down. He finally remained with the Capitals for good when recalled for the playoffs after an eye injury to Washington blueliner Tom Poti.
There are so many memories of Alzner during his long tenure with the Capitals. Here are just a few of those:
Back in that first season (2008-2009), Alzner was one of two Capitals players selected for the “Hockey Diaries” audio documentary series that was produced by Gemma Hooley and Chris Nelson. The other player selected was forward Brooks Laich. The idea of the documentary was to get “behind the scenes” looks from the point of view of a rookie and a veteran player. The Hockey Diaries series was done in subsequent years and featured many different players, but Alzner and Laich were part of the first series.
Lincoln-esque and Beginning of Carlzner in Hershey
Another memory was the Abraham Lincoln-esque beard that he grew during the Hershey Bears’ Calder Cup playoff runs of both 2009 and 2010, in which Hershey won the Calder Cup both times. During the second of those playoff runs, Alzner was paired with fellow Capitals defensive prospect and World Junior Gold Medalist (Team USA), John Carlson, and helped to shut down the Bears’ opponents, as they became collectively known as Carlzner, which foreshadowed their later partnership with the Caps.
Dogs Destroy Alzner Apartment
During the second round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Capitals lost 2-1 in triple overtime to the New York Rangers and, as a result, the Rangers took a 2-1 edge in that series. Afterwards, Alzner and his then-fiancée, Mandy, learned that their three dogs, who had been left outside their crates while they were at the game, had made a huge mess inside their apartment, which necessitated a late-night cleanup.
Karl and Mandy reacted with a sense of humor and later produced a video, to the tune of “Mission Impossible” that illustrated the fact that the dogs were escape artists who could escape from their crates to begin with, so confining them was a futile effort.
The problems with their canines of course did not deter Karl and Mandy from getting married after that season and the dogs were even part of their wedding party.
Both Alzner and Carlson played in all games during the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season and were generally paired up with one another, playing together during the following season as well. During the 2014-2015 season, they were each paired up with different partners – Alzner with one of two newcomers on the blueline in Matt Niskanen and Carlson with Brooks Orpik. Niskanen and Orpik, both former Pittsburgh Penguins, were signed as free agents to bolster the defense which had issues during the 2013-2014 season, as the Capitals used, an NHL-high, 14 different players on the blueline. During the 2016-2017 season, they were reunited as defensive partners, as Niskanen was paired with Dmitry Orlov and Orpik was paired with Nate Schmidt. After the acquisition of Kevin Shattenkirk at the trading deadline, Alzner teamed up with Kevin Shattenkirk.
The two of them were friends off the ice, too. They roomed together on the road once they both were full-time NHLers. In fact, there were Caps Roommates features on Caps 365 videos on the Capitals’ website.
Back when Karl Alzner’s wife gave birth to their daughter, Stella, on December 10, 2014, one Caps blog joked that Carlson would be “next” in baby delivery. At that same time, Gina Carlson, John’s wife, announced on Instagram that she was expecting a baby and delivered a boy, Lucca, on June 15, 2015.
Consecutive Games Played Streak
Both Carlson and Alzner had played in every game since they became regulars in the lineup, until Carlson’s consecutive games played streak ended at 412 games on December 27, 2015, just 10 games away from tying the then-franchise record. Alzner himself was at 411 consecutive games played when Carlson’s streak ended and his streak continued for the remainder of that year, as he broke the team record. He dropped hints that he had played through various injuries along the way and would adjust his game accordingly. It was evident he was playing through injury during the 2016 playoffs, as evidenced by the fact that he was taking many “maintenance days” during the playoffs. He was unable to finish the team’s last playoff game, as he aggravated a groin injury through which he was playing. He ended up needing surgery for the groin, which took place after the season ended. However, he missed no regular season games as his consecutive games played streak continued. On January 13, 2017, Alzner played in his 500th consecutive game, joining a list that consisted of only 23 other players, with the streak reaching 532 games at the end of the season. Baltimore Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr., baseball’s Iron Man, congratulated him, even showing up to a Capitals practice.
Alzner finally admitted in an interview with The Sport Junkies on local radio station 106.7 in early March that he could no longer open jars. During his career, he had played over 570 games and had blocked over a 1000 shots total. His hands have been broken so many times from blocking shots, that they were now weak and that he needed his wife, Mandy, to open them.
It was a shock to many when Alzner was noticeably missing for the morning skate before Game 3 of the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup playoff series and, not only that, but Nate Schmidt, who had been relegated to a backup role since the acquisition of Kevin Shattenkirk, was now taking line rushes without Alzner. The Capitals public relations personnel said he would be a “game time” decision. As it turned out, he not only missed Game 3, but the remainder of their series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He did not play in Game 1 of Round 2 against the Pittsburgh Penguins either. He finally returned in Game 3 of that series, as Capitals head coach Barry Trotz chose to go to a seven-defensemen configuration; in other words, using a lineup of seven defensemen and 11 forwards, instead of the normal six defensemen and 12 forwards. After the Caps were eliminated in Round 2, it was revealed the injury keeping Alzner out of the lineup for six games was a broken bone in the right hand.
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Trip to Disney World with the Oshies
After the Caps’ elimination from the playoffs in 2016, the Alzner family and the Oshie family traveled to Disney World together, with T.J. Oshie’s wife, Lauren, documenting the trip on Instagram. The trip featured the friendships of their two little girls. Alzner’s daughter, Stella, and Oshie’s daughter, Lyla, and it was obvious the girls enjoyed being together. At the time, the wives of both players were expecting babies. Mandy gave birth to their son Anson on June 1, 2016, while Lauren gave birth to another daughter, Leni, later that month.
With Alzner turning 29 in late September and the fact that his NHL Possession Metrics have declined since 2014-2015, it is probably a logical move for the Capitals management to let him go in free agency. His Corsi For had sunk from 46.4% in 2014-2015, to 43.0% in 2015-2016, and then to 41.2% in 2016-2017. His Corsi For Relative had sunk from -6.4 in 2014-2015, to -11.4 in 2015-2016, and -15.4 in 2016-2017. His Fenwick statistics showed a similar decline. His Fenwick For had sunk from 46.4% in 2014-2015, to 44.5% in 2015-2016, and then to 41.8% in 2016-2017. His Corsi For Relative had sunk from -6.7 in 2014-2015, to -10.2 in 2015-2016, and -14.2 in 2016-2017. Two-thirds of his zone starts were in the defensive zone rather than the offensive zone, as he was expected to be a shutdown defenseman.
Alzner was not much of a scorer, as his career-high in goals was in 2014-2015, when he had five. Even though it seems to be a logical move to let him go, it will still be sad from a fan’s point of view, as well as coaches and teammates. It will mark the departure of a personable guy who was easy to get attached to.
By Diane Doyle