Since late December, it was clear that the young duo of Karl Alzner and John Carlson, both playing in their first full NHL season, were the Washington Capitals’ shut-down defensive pair. Coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t hesitate to put them against some of the league’s top talents and lines and neither Alzner, 22, nor Carlson, 21, waivered under the pressure.
In this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, that role means Alzner and Carlson will likely see a lot of the Rangers’ top line of Vinny Prospal, Artem Anisimov and Marian Gaborik, who is the most explosive of all three.
New York, like Washington, has struggled to create consistent offense this season and with second-leading scorer Ryan Callahan out with a broken ankle there will be even more pressure on Gaborik to produce. The Slovakian winger has only 26 goals (48 points) this season, the first year of a four-year deal that pays him $7.5 million per campaign. He has often struggled to produce in the playoffs, and the Capitals aim to keep it that way.
Gaborik has only reached the postseason three times, all with the Minnesota Wild, and has scored 12 goals in 29 career playoff games but went scoreless in his last appearance in 2007-08.
While the Rangers have several other 20 goal scorers spread throughout the lineup, including Brian Boyle and Derek Stepan, if the Capitals can keep Gaborik — who had only five goals over the final 14 regular season games and went scoreless in the last eight — in check, it will undoubtedly help stymie them throughout the series.
So how does Alzner, who will most often deal with Gaborik streaking down the right wing, approach shutting down the speedy winger?
“Gaborik’s obviously incredibly fast. Sometimes he hangs up above the blueline, or close to the blueline, and just races for the puck and he’s tough to beat,” Alzner said. “He can shoot the puck too, which is kind of a deadly combination because coming down the wing, stopping up and taking a wrist shot a lot of guys can’t score there but he can.
“For us it’s all about gaps against him and it gets difficult because you don’t want to get too close and let him go by you,” Alzner continued. “So that’s where we come in and try to make as best of a hockey read as we can and hope it works out.”