“It’s probably the only franchise record I’d have a shot at getting,” Alzner said. “That’s kind of neat for me, you know? If I never really accomplish anything in my career, at least I have this to fall back on.”
In Alzner’s case, it’s often not just about avoiding injury, but also playing through the various ailments that are bound to come up during a grueling hockey season. Until this season, Alzner never really got close to missing a game, but against Winnipeg in early December, Alzner missed most of the third period with an injury. A defenseman was recalled from the American Hockey League the next day and Alzner wasn’t at practice.
But he was in the lineup the next game. For weeks after that injury, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz was worried Alzner wouldn’t be able to play and would check in with head athletic trainer Greg Smith. With the defense already depleted because of lower-body injuries to Brooks Orpik and John Carlson, Alzner thought the best thing for the team was to keep playing.
“There was a time a couple weeks ago, it was tape and guts keeping him going,” Trotz said. “He played through that and he’s kind of healed up through that process and it’s pretty impressive. He’s a big, thick guy. Probably some genetics there, some good luck. It is pretty impressive, especially what is demanded of defensemen not only on our team but a lot of defensemen around the league and the way guys can shoot it. You get nicked with the puck a lot.”
But as much as Alzner’s streak is a testament to good fortune and resilience, it also speaks to his consistency. Through 422 games and several coaching changes, Alzner, the most veteran of the Caps’ defensemen, had never been scratched. That aspect of his staying power is arguably what he’s most proud of and what teammates appreciate most about him.
“I try to say that’s one of the things you can rely on with me,” Alzner said. “I try to be consistent. I don’t have good games all of the time, but I try not to have really, really bad games.”
Said defenseman Taylor Chorney: “There’s not too many nights when Karl’s making very many mistakes. He’s just so steady out there, and I think that’s his game. He’s very reliable, he makes smart decisions with puck, he makes good reads defensively, and he plays through pain, too. It’s not like over the course of those games he’s felt good every night.”
Trotz and assistant coach Todd Reirden have often called Alzner one of the team’s most improved players since Trotz took over before last season. Coming off his most productive year with 21 points, Alzner is on pace for more with 14 points through 46 games. He’s first on the Capitals and third in the league with 122 blocked shots, and since Alzner’s consecutive games streak began at the beginning of the 2010-11 season, he ranks seventh in the NHL in blocked shots (797).
“I think he’s starting to get appreciated a little more around the league,” Trotz said. “I know other coaches have noticed it. I know with my involvement with the Hockey Canada group that his name is popping up and that’s a good thing. He’s on the watch list and that’s because of play.
“I think people are recognizing how steady he is, how durable he is, how he can play really any kind of game you want … He’s turning into one of those underrated top-end defensemen.”