Defenseman John Carlson was recently asked what an NHL-record seventh career goal-scoring title for Alex Ovechkin would mean to the Capitals.
“If he’s scoring, we’re usually winning,” Carlson said. “So, if that happens, that’s probably a good thing.”
While Ovechkin’s NHL-leading 44 goals and team-high 81 points have been among the biggest contributions to the Washington’s perch atop the Metropolitan Division, a career year from Carlson has also been a catalyst.
Carlson is one of four Capitals who have played all 73 games this season, and he’s produced personal-bests with 15 goals and 61 points.
On Tuesday, the blue-liner scored the decisive goal in a 4-3 win over Dallas with 4:59 remaining in the third period to secure Washington’s fifth win in six games. Carlson has three goals and eight points over the six-game stretch, which has seen the Capitals move four points clear of second-place Pittsburgh.
Washington begins a three-game road trip against non-playoff teams tonight in Detroit, with Carlson set to play in his 600th NHL game.
“John’s just having a whale of year,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “He’s been a stalwart back there for us.”
Given the offseason departures of defensemen Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt and Kevin Shattenkirk, the Caps have leaned heavily on Carlson, who is playing a career-high 24:59 per game.
Associate coach Todd Reirden, who works primarily with defensemen, challenged Carlson in the preseason to have a bounce-back campaign. Carlson finished 10th in Norris Trophy voting as the league’s top defenseman in 2014-15, but battled through injuries the following two seasons.
“Being mentioned in that initial top-10 in the Norris Trophy voting is somewhere we wanted to get back to,” Reirden said. “He’s really put a lot of extra time and effort in trying to get back into that group.”
The timing has been ideal for the Capitals, who spent the first half of the season integrating rookie defensemen Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos and more recently introduced trade- deadline acquisitions Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek. Carlson has been a constant.
Entering Wednesday, Carlson’s 61 points were tied for most among defensemen. Not bad for a 28-year-old who is eligible to be an unrestricted free agent July 1.
“I think we’ve looked to him to step up and lead … and the numbers don’t lie,” T.J. Oshie said. “He’s been having an unreal season.”