From his spot behind the Capitals’ bench, Coach Adam Oates could hear John Carlson yelling for the puck long before Martin Erat made an impressive diving pass to the trailing defenseman.
In Carlson’s assertiveness on that play, which led to his scoring a goal in the second period of Washington’s 4-3 overtime win against Columbus on Tuesday night, Oates sees a player finding a groove.
“That shows, to me, that a guy’s in tuned in the game because he sees something developing,” Oates said, acknowledging that while the Capitals ask a lot of Carlson there’s a certain pressure removed when he’s contributing offensively. “Scoring a goal and getting another one keeps the juices going. You always feel good when you get one, no matter how. If it’s an empty netter it counts. I’m sure he feels a little better.”
Carlson’s goal against the Blue Jackets marked his fourth in the past six games. Those tallies also accounted for all but two of the goals Washington has received from defensemen this season. It’s quite an outburst considering he recorded only two assists in the first 13 games.
The Capitals talk about how vital offensive contributions from defensemen can be as straightforward as making the correct decision and play at the point to keep possession or a cycle alive. But any goals they can get from blueliners offers more balance to the group overall and with so few defensemen contributing on the scoresheet – Carlson, Alex Urbom and Connor Carrick, who is currently with the Hershey Bears — through the early stages of the season, Carlson’s scoring touch has come at the right time.
“Most of my goals have been off of regroups and breakouts, other than the power play one. That’s good,” Carlson said. “That’s where as a defensemen those are big goals for the team to join the rush and score like that. I’ve been pretty lucky I’ve gotten some pretty good passes.”
Carlson, 23, has been on the ice for 15 of the 54 goals the Capitals have given up, tied with Mike Green for most among defensemen. Given that Carlson faces the toughest matchups and plays an average of 23:11 per night, second to only Green, that statistic isn’t all that unexpected.
But Oates has been pleased with Carlson’s overall game for a while now, and the goal production is a bonus.
“The last little bit he’s been playing great. Him and [Karl Alzner] have been solid. They’ve been a rock,” Oates said. “They’ve started every penalty kill, which has been very solid for us. [They’ve played] a lot of minutes, a big goal. He’s playing great hockey.”