With each passing year in John Carlson’s NHL career, the Capitals come to rely on him more.
His durability – he’s played every game since the start of the 2009-10 season – and ability to handle any game situation have made it easy for the Capitals to lean on him. This season, though, his ice time has taken a significant jump.
Carlson is averaging 24:47 per game, which is considerably more than his 23:01 mark last season. And as the Olympic break approached, Washington needed him to anchor the defense with Mike Green sidelined by a concussion. In four of the six games since Green was injured, including that Jan. 30 contest at Columbus, Carlson has skated more than 28 minutes.
“I’m used to it, it’s because of Mike being out so it’s not the way it’s going to be the whole year,” Carlson said, dismissing concern. “That’s what people need to do is fill in when guys get hurt, so that means extra minutes for me.”
That workload itself isn’t unusual for the 24-year-old blueliner but over the next few weeks while the rest of the Capitals defensemen get a break, Carlson will be playing for the United States in Sochi. It’s difficult to gauge whether the continuous pressure will have an effect on Carlson when he returns to the Capitals.
“I don’t worry about it based on [workload] because I think the Olympics will energize him,” Coach Adam Oates said. “I think he’ll zero his focus in again…. You’re going to play with the best players in the world at the highest level. So for one week I think it will, if nothing else, re-energize him.”
The men’s hockey tournament in Sochi runs 11 days (Feb. 12-23) and it’s impossible to predict how the United States will fare or how significant a role Carlson will have. Of the eight defenseman on the U.S. roster, six are making their Olympic debuts and three, including Carlson, were born in 1990 or after. But all are accustomed to playing heavy minutes against tough opponents.
Regardless whether Carlson sees a large workload in Sochi, Oates hopes that when the NHL resumes he will be able to take some of the responsibility off the young defenseman.
“He’s played a tremendous amount of hockey, every situation. Unfortunately that’s a product of our games being too tight, fighting uphill too much. Never get a chance to rest him,” Oates said. “Hopefully [after the Olympics] Mike’s back and will get the lion’s share of the ice time, to give [Carlson] a breather and try and figure out a way to spread the minutes a little differently so he doesn’t log so much.”