Saturday, September 27, 2014

Washington Capitals 2014-2015 Previews -- Defensemen: Karl Alzner

Karl Alzner

"I am constant as the northern star,
Of whose true-fix'd and resting quality
There is no fellow in the firmament."

-- William Shakespeare (Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 1)

Karl Alzner might not be the most constant defenseman in the National Hockey League, but he resides in close proximity.  Over the last four seasons Alzner has appeared in every game, one of only four defensemen to do so.  He has been a constant, if modest, in his offensive production, scoring one or two goals in each of those four seasons, averaging between 0.15 and 0.22 points per game in the three full 82-game seasons in that span.  His penalty minutes per game ranged from 0.29 to 0.32.  His time on ice per game has ranged from 20:01 to 20:57 over the past four seasons.

On defense, Alzner has expressed a similarly constant nature to his game.  Over the last three seasons he has been on ice for 80, 55, and 85 total goals against; 30, 18, and 30 power play goals against.  That makes for a very consistent goals-against on ice per game. 

That’s on the surface.  In 2013-2014 Alzner had a bit of an odd season.  For long stretches he played with the consistency to which Caps fans have become accustomed.  However, there were two blocks of games last year in which he played in something of a funk.  There was a three-week span to start December in which over nine games he was 1-1-2, minus-11.  Oddly enough, the Caps were 5-2-2 in those games.

Then there was another nine-game stretch, this one coming from mid-March through April 1st in which Alzner was 0-2-2, minus-4, a minus player in six of those games.  The Caps were 4-2-3 in those games.   Odd that in what might have been Alzner’s worst games of the season in terms of his own performance numbers, the Caps would go 9-4-5.

Fearless’ Take…

Last year at this time, Peerless pointed out that Alzner drew tough assignments in 2012-2013 based on the 5-on-5 ice time he logged against individual opponents.  That was certainly the case in 2013-2014, too.  The top ten players against whom Alzner played last season in 5-on-5 ice time were (source:
  • Claude Giroux
  • Eric Staal
  • Jakub Voracek
  • Marian Gaborik
  • Evgeni Malkin
  • James Van Riemsdyk
  • Alexander Semin
  • Jaromir Jagr
  • Phil Kessel
  • Travis Zajac
Not only does he draw tough assignments, he plays in tough geography on the ice.  Only two Capitals defenseman had a lower percentage of offensive zone starts last season at 5-on-5 than Alzner (49.8 percent; minimum: 20 games).  And no Capitals defenseman in that group had a better offensive zone finish/start differential ( 

Cheerless’ Take…

Among 200 defensemen playing at least 500 5-on-5 minutes last season, Alzner was 74th in goals against/on ice per 20 minutes He was 162nd in goals-for percentage on ice.  Alzner does not contribute a lot of offense on his own to push up the goals for percentage number but the rankings in those two areas are not what the Caps might want out of the guy they depend on being part of a shutdown pair.

And, there are defensive defensemen, but among 224 defensemen having played in at least 100 games over the past four years, only 37 have scored fewer goals per game than Alzner (0.02).  Only 11 of 124 defensemen having played in at least 200 games over the past four years have fewer goals than Alzner (6). 

The Big Question… Has Alzner plateaued?

We made mention of Alzner’s consistency over the past four seasons.  Looked at from another angle, that might be a case of Alzner have reached the ceiling of his play.  He is still just 26 years old and entering what should be the chronological prime of his career.   It might be a stretch to think that he will reveal much more of an offensive game, but the Caps have enough weapons from the blue line on offense.  Alzner is a player who is counted on to help shut teams down at the other end of the ice.  For example, he has been first or second in average shorthanded ice time per game over the past three seasons.  The odd thing about his even strength ice time is that last season was his lowest average even strength ice time in the last four seasons, more than a minute less (16:56) then he had in 2012-2013 (18:17). 

The Capitals have not been an especially good defensive team in recent years.  In the last three seasons the Caps have not ranked higher than 18th in scoring defense and not higher than 16th in penalty killing.  The Capitals have to be better in those rankings, and Alzner, given his role, has to be a significant part of that. If Alzner has another level as a shutdown defenseman, his growth in that area is likely to show up in those defensive rankings for the club.

In the end…

No defenseman in the draft class of 2007 has played in more regular season games than Karl Alzner.  Over the last four seasons he ranks 30th among defensemen in total minutes played overall, and remember than he gets almost no power play time (only 44:55 combined over the last four seasons).  He is sixth among defensemen 25 or younger in the last four seasons in total minutes played, the others being Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, P.K. Subban, Erik Karlsson, and teammate John Carlson.  Alzner, who gets very little recognition outside the friendly confines of Capitals Nation is quite literally “unsung.”  But he, with John Carlson, have been among the most reliable and consistent defensemen in the league over the past four seasons.

Constant, dependable, reliable.  These have been the hallmarks of Karl Alzner’s career with the Capitals to date.  There would be worse things than to have him continue to be that constant, dependable, reliable defenseman.  One still hopes, though, that there is still some growth in his game.  Not necessarily at the offensive end, but in being that constant in the defensive zone who can keep opponents off the scoreboard.

Projection: 82 games, 2-14-16, plus-6

Photo: Evan Vucci/Associated Press