Wednesday, April 20, 2016

John Carlson ... your latest super defenseman for Capitals

By Larry Wigge

John Carlson does not serve as Alexander Ovechkin's caddie -- the way he tees him up for passes for one slap slot ... after another ... after another ... on the power play off wing.

Let's get that straight ...

In fact, this burly, strong defenseman -- 6-3, 212-pounder -- could just as easily deposit you into the fifth row of seats with one his typical hip checks.

"I don't ever want anyone to think I'm a one-dimensional player," an angry Carlson explained.

To say that John Carlson has simply replaced Mike Green as the shot on the Washington Capitals power play would be easy. No one did it with the flair that Green did when he scored 31 goals in 2008-09. But, Carlson has found his niche and is certainly proud of his setting up Ovechkin.

"You notice him Carly out there right away," explained Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. "It's not just his shot. With his size and his strength, he's got that physical stature you can count on."

Carlson's plays solid defense. His outlet passes are hard and accurate. And when the pressure is on, he demands the puck with a stern whack of his stick on the ice.

Like Green, Carlson has found time to score a goal in each of the Capitals first three playoff win over the Philadelphia Flyers. All three points in Game 3 came on the power play, as the Caps connected a whopping five times with the man advantage.

Carlson is the first NHL player to score a power-play goal in each of three consecutive team games in one playoff year since the Sharks' Patrick Marleau had a three-game streak in 2011. Carlson is the first defenseman to do that since Bill Houlder of San Jose in 1999. He also tied the Capitals record for the longest power-play goal streak in one playoff year, which was set by John Druce in 1990 and previously equaled by Dmitri Khristich in 1992 and Al Iafrate in 1993.

He was selected by the Capitals with a first-round pick, 27th overall, in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

A little background on Carlson: The Natick, Massachusetts. native, grew up a Boston Bruins fan, before moving to Colonia, N.J. When he was 5, Carlson grew up playing hockey for the New Jersey Rockets and quickly became a Scott Stevens fan.

"You could see the raw abilities," Toronto forward Brooks Laich, once a teammate, said. "He could shoot the puck. He was big, he was strong, he could skate. You could tell he had the ability to elevate his game. The raw material was fantastic."

Former Capitals coach and currently Anaheim coach was left saying, "The higher level you get to, the more speed forwards are attacking with. John was right in everyone's face, whereas other defensemen were stiff-legged and puck-chasing."

For a while this spring it was iffy whether Carlson would play down the stretch, he missed from February 25 to March 24. Carlson’s 412-game playing streak ended with what Trotz described as a lower body injury.

Carlson finished the season with eight goals and 31 assists in 58 games. He leads the club in average ice time with 24:28 per game.

THe kid was a center until he was about 13, when at the urging of his father, Dick Carlson, he switched to defense. The elder Carlson manned the blueline at Division III Framingham State in Framingham, Mass., and was involved in coaching his son throughout his youth.

As a defenseman, Carlson saw his game blossom.

"We moved him to defense for a couple of reasons: He had a good head for the game and he had pretty good size," Dick Carlson said. "We thought he would be able to control the game a little more, and he did."

Being chosen to play for the U.S. Olympic team in Sochi, Russia, in 2014 was always a dream. When the roster was announced in alphabetical order and it wasn't until a young boy wearing a Carlson jersey skated in front of the camera that the 26-year-old realized his dream.

"It's obviously an honor to play for your country and I feel a bond with D.C.," Carlson said. "It's just cool standing in front of the White House. This city has a lot of meaning and so does playing for my country. It's a whole new level."

The last represented Team USA in the 2010 World Championships, when he scored the game-winning goalin overtime of the Gold Medal game. That gold medal-winning goal stands, to this point, as an on-ice highlight of Carlson’s career. But Carlson also painted the picture of a tighter-knit corps, bolstered this offseason by the signings of Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen, stabilized because none of the top four has missed a game this season.

"The better you feel usually, the easier it is to come to the rink every day and put in your time, the happier you are, you want to come here," Carlson said. "Sometimes when things aren't going well and you don't have the feeling that everyone is down, it's harder, like anything else, to dig deep and keep going at something that's not working, which has happened to us this year, but I think we've always put our foot down when stuff like that's happened, because we've stuck together so much."

A potential sweep of Philadelphia for the Capitals, who ranked first overall in the NHL during the regular season, might make some sense for the most ardent Washington fan.

To show that John Carlson is not too wrap up on one-game, he and several of his teammates were asked last year which kind of super hero they would you be?

Said Carlson, "Superman would probably be my favorite growing up and I guess that would have to carry over for now."

As a follow up question, Captain America would be ranked where?

"Terrible ... I play hockey. That's far from a superhero."

Well said by John Carlson ... the super defenseman ... in the mold of Larry Murphy, Rod Langway and Scott Stevens.

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