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The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Who says the Capitals have never won anything?

Washington as a franchise has come up short in recent playoff ventures, but a couple Capitals already have decorated resumes, sans Stanley, of course.

Young defensemen John Carlson and Karl Alzner were both members of the Hershey Bears clubs that claimed back-to-back American League championships in 2009 and 2010. Alzner also has a pair of World Junior Championship gold medals from his triumphs with Team Canada, while Carlson famously scored the overtime winner 12 months ago when Team USA downed Canada at the 2010 WJC (Alzner had already moved on).

Now paired together on the biggest stage, Alzner and Carlson are a vital duo on a team and – more specifically – a defense corps that has reformed its technique to try and emulate the winning results those two have experienced at lower levels.

“In the long run that’s what we need,” Alzner said. “You need to play good defense to win – all the Stanley Cup teams, they can play in their own zone. We’re starting there and I think the offense will come back.”

Alzner said the young pair relishes the responsibility they’ve been given and they’ve certainly responded well to it. Carlson, who turned 21 this month, has 21 points in 50 games, just one less than the team rearguard pace set by Mike Green. Carlson’s also plus-13, best among the D-corps, while the 6-foot-3, 206-pound Alzner is tied for second in that category at plus-10.

“We’re playing a lot of minutes, we’re playing important minutes as well,” said Alzner, 22. “We’re just trying to do the same thing and that’s worry first about shutting down other teams and playing our game and doing what the coaches want us to, and then after that, trying to chip in offensively. ‘Carly’ does that a little better than I do.”

The fact they’re from different sides of the border is just one reason these buddies like to rib each other and they’ve got plenty of opportunities to do just that, given they not only stride together on the ice, but ride to the rink together and sit beside one another in the dressing room. Alzner said the shots are good-natured and tend to be geared toward enhancing performance.

“It’s more like me pumping his tires and him pumping my tires,” he chuckled. “It’s good and I think you need that. Having each other here, it keeps us both honest and accountable.”

The transformation of the Caps ‘D’ is an ongoing process. Washington is giving up an average of 2.48 goals per game right now, good for seventh in the league, compared with the 2.77 it surrendered last year, 16th-best league-wide. But everyone on and around Capitol Hill knows the only true gauge for whether the experiment has worked or not will occur in the post-season.

Carlson, still technically a rookie, actually may have been Washington’s best D-man in the seven-game loss to the Montreal Canadiens last spring, netting four points and putting up a plus-6 rating. Alzner, a third-year player, has only seen action in one NHL playoff game over his career, but the fifth overall pick from 2007 has all the ingredients to be an effective post-season performer.

For now, he’s just happy to be a contributing member of an up-and-coming Caps pair and enjoying the defense evolution.

“It’s been an adventure, for me personally, at least,” he said. “The start of the season was a bit up and down. Everyone was still trying to figure out their ‘D’ pairings and we were kind of playing with everybody, different sides.

“But I think me and ‘Carly’ have started coming into our own. It’s like we’re just going out there and having fun, just playing the game, not worrying about making a mistake or being two young guys in the league. It’s just going and playing hockey, which is what we’re born to do.”

Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to His blog appears Wednesdays.

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