TAMPA — With 33.5 seconds left in overtime, the Washington Capitals swarmed around in the offensive zone on a four-on-three power play, moving the puck from one spot to the next to get the look they wanted. Defenseman John Carlson finally fired a slap shot, and the puck was met by Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop rather than the back of the net.
That was Carlson’s sixth shot of the game, and the 2-1 shootout loss to the Lightning marked the 23rd game he’s been held without a goal, starting this season in one of the worst droughts of his career. But while Carlson is at least a little disheartened about his lack of goal production, he’s tried to remind himself that with the second-most shots on the team in all situations, it’s not for a lack of trying.
“There’s been times where I’ve caused myself to go down the wrong path, but at the end of the day, I think when I watch the games and I look over stuff — and sure, I can be a lot better in certain areas — but I feel I’m still playing a good brand of hockey,” Carlson said on Saturday. “So, I think that sometimes that’s the frustration of getting the chances and putting yourself in position to succeed, and just not doing it. But it happens. I’ve gone on streaks before. You know, it’s time to end it though, that’s for sure.”
In an injury-shortened season, Carlson scored eight goals and 31 assists in 56 games last year. Through 23 games this season, Carlson has nine assists, but no goals, despite tallying 57 shots on goal. He’s on pace for more shots per game than he had last season, just not rewarded for that yet. Carlson logs the most minutes on the team with 23:12 per game, quarterbacking the top power play unit.
Capitals Coach Barry Trotz has attributed at least some of his slow scoring start to getting “nicked up” playing for Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey before the season. The longer the drought has gone on, the more potential there is for overthinking, Trotz said. That can be the difference between getting a shot on net and aiming for a precise spot just to miss the net by a foot.
“Carly is such a talent, and I think this one of the few times in Carly’s career, which is sort of good for Carly in fact, it’s not coming really easy for him,” Trotz said. “He got off to a slow start, a little bit nicked up through the World Cup and the start of our season, and now he’s playing catch-up. Now, maybe you’re not having the success that you’ve had in the past. I don’t want to say doubt creeps in, but you start to look for different ways to have success and different ways to do that. Sometimes, as I said, the doubt creeps in or you get frustrated. When you’re frustrated, it’s just not a good energy.”
Carlson hasn’t resorted to excuses, not blaming the undisclosed minor injury before the season or a change in defense partner with Dmitry Orlov as possible reasons for his lack of production. On a team that has had some trouble scoring this season, Carlson is far from the only one in a slump. But with the Capitals tallying just three goals in the past three games, now would be a good time for him to break out of his.
“That’s the nice thing about when you do score, the net seems a lot bigger,” Carlson said. “You start feeling a lot better about yourself. I mean, there’s always a difference between wanting to shoot to score but then it matters that you give it a chance to score, too. It’s tough to find that balance when things aren’t falling in your favor. I don’t just want to be shoveling pucks into the middle of the goalie’s chest because that’s not really going to get you anywhere anyway.
“But yeah, it’s something that I’m working on, trying to get better and trusting myself to know the type of player and person I am to get through this sort of thing. When I do look back and think about it, you know, it’s not like my whole game is upside down or anything and I need to find something to get that part in rhythm first. I’m putting myself in positions, and I’ve given myself chances. It just comes down to getting done, and I think I’ve worked hard enough to work through this thing ASAP.”