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Defenseman Karl Alzner has two goals in three games

From left, Dmitry Orlov, Karl Alzner, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Marcus Johansson and Brett Connolly celebrate Alzner’s goal against Winnipeg Tuesday night. (John Woods/The Canadian Press via AP)

WINNIPEG — The hottest Washington Capitals player coming out of the team’s western-Canada road swing is Marcus Johansson, who scored three goals in five games and leads the team with six goals and 11 points.

But defenseman Karl Alzner is on a hot streak of his own, having improbably scored two goals in the past three games. Against Vancouver, Alzner scored an empty-netter, and on Tuesday night in Winnipeg, Alzner scored with a wrist shot from the left point. He is halfway to last season’s total of four goals, and he’s the only Washington defenseman to have scored a goal.

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It’s slightly surprising for a blue-liner who’s known for his shutdown defensive role rather than his offensive production, but getting point shots through to generate more scoring chances in front of the net has been an emphasis for Capitals defensemen.

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“It’s just a play that has been kind of happening a lot this year,” Alzner said. “I get the puck with a little bit of time, and I’d wind up for that big slap shot. I was trying to beat the goalie straight up kind of thing. I’d been saying over the last couple of days since Calgary that if I get another opportunity, just place it. You get way better accuracy with a wrist shot than you do with a slapper, even though the slap shot feels better to take it. Yeah, same opportunity. Got a great screen and just put it back across the way the goalie’s coming from. It found its way in. It’s not always the big shot, and I’ve got to calm the heart rate down to make those plays more often.”

Entering Tuesday night’s game at Winnipeg, which Washington won, 3-2, the Capitals had scored five even-strength goals by a forward deflecting a defenseman’s point shot in front. Alzner’s was the first one to go in untouched. Through the first nine games of the season, Washington’s blue line has 15 assists to go with Alzner’s two goals.

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“You’ve got to create some of that in the game, where you’re shooting to create,” Coach Barry Trotz said recently. “Sometimes, they’re not always high-quality scoring chances, but what you’re doing is putting the puck in play so you can create some of those coverage mismatches.”

With teams better at shot blocking, it’s a skill to get shots through from the blue line. Techniques to remedy that involve scouting each team’s defensive zone coverage, creating a shot lane through the movement of a defenseman’s feet and using deception with a fake shot.

“The guys that can get it through, it’s phenomenal,” Alzner said. “I don’t know how they can find lanes like that, like an Erik Karlsson. It’s just really, really hard. You wait for it. You’ve got to move across the line, too; that’s obviously a big thing, and I don’t move across the line that well, I guess is what I’m trying to get at. Just trying to work on that a little bit. The way we’re playing when we’re swarming down low and guys can pop pucks out to the weak side, you have a second or two to make the shot, you’ve just got to make the right one.”

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