“I think with Carly, there’s been areas of his game that sort of would lag, and I think he’s done a really good job of focusing on those areas, so he can have that consistency,” Trotz said. “He’s maturing as a player. He’s still a very young player who’s now entering the front end of the prime of his career. There’s lot of good things to see from him.”
Leading the Capitals in time on ice with 23 minutes 17 seconds per game, Carlson has also ascended up the ranks of the NHL’s most offensively productive defensemen. Among blue-liners with more than 20 games, he ranks first with 1.67 points per 60 minutes, per stats.hockeyanalysis.com, and his 11 primary assists top everyone else by two.
And assuming Carlson again plays 82 games — a fair assumption, because he’s one of only three NHL defensemen since 2010-11 to not miss one — he is currently pacing toward 46 assists, a mark that, among Washington blue-liners, only Mike Green has reached since 2002-03.
“I’d like to think it’s a number of things,” Carlson said Friday, once the Capitals finished practice at Toyota Sports Center before facing the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday. “I’d like to think it’s great, it’s good, it’s always nice to be as productive as you can. A lot of stuff has to do with luck, and you can go out there and make 20 of the same passes and sometimes they score one out of 20 and sometimes they score eight out of 20.
“It has a lot to do with that, but I’ve said it before, I wanted to be more consistent, I wanted to keep getting better, and I think I’ve done that. This year, maybe I prepared differently and worked as hard as possible and just a number of things you think about, you try to do every day, and sometimes good things happen.”
It’s why Carlson has continued to work with assistant coach Todd Reirden on individual techniques before each practice, and why he has sometimes leaned on veterans Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik for advice. But Carlson also painted the picture of a tighter-knit corps, bolstered this offseason by the signings of Orpik and Niskanen, stabilized because none of the top four has missed a game this season.
“The better you feel usually, the easier it is to come to the rink every day and put in your time, the happier you are, you want to come here,” Carlson said. “Sometimes when things aren’t going well, and you don’t have the feeling that everyone is down, it’s harder, like anything else, to dig deep and keep going at something that’s not working, which has happened to us this year, but I think we’ve always put our foot down when stuff like that’s happened, because we’ve stuck together so much.”
But Carlson also admitted good fortune has played a role. He was critical of his performance against the Sharks and made some defensive-zone mistakes that still stuck out. But he blasted his first goal since Jan. 10, recorded his first multi-point night since Jan. 20 and reached a new personal mark along the way.
“That’s awesome,” he said. “I think that’s awesome. Your goal is to always set a new goal. Whenever that may be. Even right now, the points weren’t coming when I felt like I was playing pretty good hockey, then sometimes I didn’t think I played overly well in San Jose at all, and I made a few plays that got cashed in, then I scored. That’s kind of the way the game works. More luck, I guess, in those regards. Obviously you’re going to have plays where you’re working as hard as you can and you make a nice play and it’s a no-brainer. But the more hard work I guess, maybe the more bounces you get.”
NOTE: Before the Capitals left on their season-long road trip, including this back-to-back in Los Angeles and Anaheim when their fathers joined the tour, Trotz promised that everyone would play in at least one game. At practice, defenseman Steve Oleksy skated on the third pairing with Mike Green, and if he indeed starts against the Kings, he would make his season debut.
“That’s one of the rules I made to myself a number of years ago,” Trotz said. “A few years back, I didn’t put everybody in, and it didn’t feel right to me, so I’ve already announced to the players that everybody will play on this trip. You don’t read as much into the lineup. Somebody has to sit, they have to sit, but everyone has to get into the lineup at some point in the next two games.”