Friday, June 03, 2011

2010-2011 By the Tens -- Defensemen: John Carlson

John Carlson

Theme: Toil to make yourself remarkable by some talent or other
-- Seneca

OK, you’ve just made your NHL debut two months before your 20th birthday, then you score the game-winning goal in overtime in the World Junior Championship title game (and are named to the WJC all-star team for good measure) a few days before you turn 20 years old. You are recalled by the Caps two weeks later and finish the regular season with the big club by going plus-11 in 22 games. Then, with your team having lost its first playoff game in the post season at home and down a goal late in the third period of Game 2, in danger of going down 0-2, you score the game-tying goal with 81 seconds left and save, at least for the moment, the season (the Caps going on to win that game in overtime). After your team is eliminated in the post season, you go back down to Hershey, where not only does your team skate off with the championship, but you score the game-winning goal in the Calder Cup-clinching game.

And you’re not even “technically” a rookie in the NHL…how the hell do you top that season as you embark on your NHL rookie campaign?

Meet John Carlson, Real American Hero and Man with a Flair for the Dramatic. Absent curing cancer, solving global warming, stabilizing U.S. currency, and single-handedly winning the war on poverty (or drugs, terror, whatever), anything he did this season might be viewed as underachieving. But he is a hockey player, and a mighty fine one. Did we say he will not turn 22 until next January?

As for his 2010-2011 season, we can start with his overall numbers through his ten-game splits…

Now, let’s put them in context. Among Washington defensemen, Carlson…

-- Tied for the team lead in games played (82, with Karl Alzner)
-- Was second in goals scored (seven, to Mike Green’s eight)
-- Led the team in assists (30) and overall scoring (37 points)
-- Led in plus-minus (plus-21)
-- Led in game-winning goals (three)
-- Led in shots on goal (144)
-- Was second in total average ice time per game (22:38, among defensemen playing at least 20 games for the Caps)
-- Led in blocked shots (160)
-- Led in takeaways (60)

Among his rookie defenseman cohorts, Carlson…

-- Was the only one to play in all 82 games (P.K. Subban was next with 77 games played)
-- Tied for fourth in goals
-- Tied for second in assists
-- Finished fourth in total points
-- Tied for first in game winning goals (with Cam Fowler and Subban)
-- Was second in shots on goal (to Subban)
-- Was second in plus-minus (to Adam McQuaid)
-- Finished first in total average ice time per game
-- Finished first in blocked shots
-- Finished first in takeaways

It wasn’t all unicorns and glitter – Carlson did lead all rookie defensemen in giveaways, and only four rookie blueliners were on the ice for more goals against, but in a perverse sense even those numbers were a reflection of the responsibility placed on Carlson’s (and his usual partner, Karl Alzner’s) shoulders. If you’re out there long enough, largely facing the opponent’s best, you’re going to get beat. His rookie competitors did not as often enjoy the level of responsibility Carlson was asked to bear.

Carlson showed considerable consistency in his offensive production across his ten-game splits, and he finished strong (2-7-9, plus-7 in his last dozen games of the season while averaging almost 24 minutes a night). It led to a season that was, even if put on an equivalent games played basis, an improvement over the previous season:

Here’s the thing, though. Of 173 defensemen in the NHL who played in at least 50 games (regardless of years in the league) only 23 played against higher quality competition than did Carlson (statistics from – higher than Drew Doughty or Shea Weber or Christian Ehrhoff or Tyler Myers, to name a few you might recognize. No rookie defenseman played to a higher level of competition than did Carlson.

Odd Carlson Fact…John Carlson played the last 33 games of the season never having skated less than 20 minutes in any of them. The next longest streak of 20-plus minute games to end the season among rookie defensemen? Seventeen (P.K. Subban).

Game to Remember…October 9, 2010. In the home opener for the Caps against the New Jersey Devils, the Caps spotted the Devils the first goal 1:49 into the game. Carlson got it back less than a minute later when he picked up a loose puck outside the Devils’ blue line, skated in, and wristed the puck past goalie Martin Brodeur and just under the crossbar for his first goal of the season. After the Devils would grab the lead once more, Carlson assisted on the next two goals (the second of which was the game winner) to give him a 1-2-3 night in a Caps 7-2 win in which Carlson earned the second star.

Game to Forget…February 25, 2011. Yes, the same game as we noted Karl Alzner might want to forget, but when you are one another’s partner, it should not be surprising. In a 6-0 loss to the New York Rangers, Carlson was on the ice for four goals against. At the other end, he attempted nine shots (two on goal) on a bizarre night when 28 of the Caps’ 72 shot attempts came from five defensemen (this was the game in which Mike Green suffered a concussion at the hands, so to speak, of Derek Stepan). None of Carlson’s shots found their mark.

Post Season…It wouldn’t appear as if Carlson had an especially bad post season (2-1-3, minus-2 in nine games), but Carlson struggled in the Rangers series (0-1-1, minus-3 in five games, on ice for four of the eight goals scored against in the series), and his two goals in the series against Tampa came in Games 3 and 4, after the Lightning had established a 2-0 advantage in games (although he was on the ice for only four of 16 goals scored against the Caps in the four games).

In the end, Carlson’s season might not have been as remarkable as the season preceding it, but he enjoyed an excellent season, nevertheless. We were leery of projecting him at even as many as 28 points when the season started. That he ended up with 37 (still in the top-35 among all defensemen) was a pleasant surprise. His ice time and quality of competition faced did not faze him, although he was a bit more out of his depth in this year’s playoffs. He was certainly worthy of being in the Calder Trophy conversation as the top rookie in the league, and he was arguably the top defenseman in this rookie class. Flashy? Perhaps not, but it is a very good foundation on which Carlson can embark on a long NHL career.

Now…about that global warming thing.

Grade: B+

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