Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson shared some thoughts about his historic season and his team’s struggles since just before Christmas before the NHL Pause with Sportsnet’s Elliotte Freidman in his latest “31 Thoughts” column.
“I think there is just a general disappointment in not playing,” Carlson wrote in an email. “A lot of my success on the ice is attributed to the guys who I play with. That’s what I miss the most. Time will tell. Hopefully, we’ll resume at some point here and I’ll be able to finish what I started.”
After a 26-6-5 start to the season, the Capitals are 15-14-3 while their .441 points percentage since February 1 is the fifth-worst in the NHL, let alone the worst among any team currently in Stanley Cup Playoff position. They have gone 6-8-3 since ending January as winners of five of their previous six games (5-1-0). The NHL Pause came at the right time for the Capitals as the red-hot Philadelphia Flyers pulled to within one point of them for the Metropolitan Division lead after they had a 10-point lead entering play on December 28. Each team played 69 games before the pause.
Carlson, 30, was leading the Capitals with 60 assists (which was fourth in the NHL) and 75 points (tied with New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad for 12th) in 69 games this season, an 89-point pace over a full season, which would have been the most for a blueliner since Ray Bourque’s 91 in 1993–94. Only eight other defencemen have hit that total — Bobby Orr, Paul Coffey, Al MacInnis, Denis Potvin, Brian Leetch, Phil Housley, Gary Suter, and Bourque. Though he recorded only two goals and 15 points in 20 games after the NHL All-Star Break, down from his 13 goals and 60 points he posted in 49 games before. Carlson’s +21 rating entering play on December 23 was the third-best in the NHL behind only Colorado Avalanche defenseman Ryan Graves and Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton (both were tied for first with a +24). Since then, his -9 rating is tied for the 40th-worst in the league and in sole possession for the second-worst on the Capitals, ahead of only forward Tom Wilson’s -11.
“I don’t believe we ever hit a panic button. But, at the same time, we weren’t happy with the way we were playing,” Carlson said. “There definitely was a sense of urgency for us to get back to a level that we expect of ourselves. We knew full well that it’s not a switch you can just turn on and off come playoff time. It’s a process. That’s where our focus was, and I’m confident in our team, our guys, to right the ship if we get an opportunity here.”
Captain Alex Ovechkin was having a stellar season as his 48 goals through the NHL Pause were tied with Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak for the most in the league and moved him to within 188 goals of Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record. The 34-year-old was hot too as his 22 goals in his last 22 games were only two behind Zibanejad, who has played four more games than him over that span, for the most in the league since January 13. Will he be around long enough to catch Gretzky?
“That’s a tough one. I think he will keep playing as long as he is healthy. Being around him, I think you see first-hand the joy he has for the game. Will he break Wayne’s record? That’s tough to say, but he definitely has an opportunity to do so if he remains healthy,” Carlson says.
When asked if that elusive 895th career goal for Ovechkin is a one-timer from the right circle on the power-play set up by Carlson at the top, he replied: “He has the right players around him in [centers Nicklas] Backstrom and [Evgeny] Kuznetsov to create chances for him.”
By Harrison Brown