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Pregame notes: Capitals’ Karl Alzner to play in 500th consecutive game

Defenseman Karl Alzner is the Capitals’ Iron Man. (Nick Wass/Associated Press)

Karl Alzner didn’t want to risk participating in Friday morning’s optional skate. His afternoon plans involve taking it “really easy,” maybe just watching some television on the couch. “A nice, safe, slow drive to the rink,” he said.

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Alzner has played in 499 consecutive games, dating to Oct. 8, 2010. On Friday night against the Chicago Blackhawks, he’ll become the first player in franchise history to play in 500 in a row. That’ll make him just the third defenseman since 1943-44 to reach that mark, joining St. Louis’s Jay Bouwmeester and Florida’s Keith Yandle. In a week of milestones for the Capitals, that’s a more selective club than scoring 1,000 points or 500 assists.

“Maybe we’re not as smart as the rest of the guys in the league, playing through things we shouldn’t be playing through,” Alzner said with a laugh. “It’s not really expected for people to be able to play that many games. [Alex Ovechkin] scoring all the goals and all the points is skill, a lot of skill and a lot of hard work. Whereas this, it’s just being in the right place at the right time. I can’t skill my way through 500 games; I just have to work hard and be fortunate.”

Last season, Alzner passed Bob Carpenter for the longest streak of consecutive games played in franchise history, with 423. He has posted the fifth-longest active consecutive games streak in the NHL, trailing Anaheim’s Andrew Cogliano (748), Yandle (594), San Jose’s Patrick Marleau (584) and Pittsburgh’s Phil Kessel (569). Since his streak began, at the beginning of the 2010-11 season, Alzner ranks sixth in the NHL in blocked shots (963).

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“Just random friendly fire sometimes is dangerous,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “To me, Karl is a guy who doesn’t get a lot of accolades and is a constant on your lineup, and a real positive constant. That is extremely important, extremely valuable and really goes under the radar, not only by the fans and media, but even the coaching staff. Just every day you go in and write his name on the board. Those type of things are invaluable.”

There were moments when Alzner doubted this streak would continue, such as last season when he broke his thumb in December and then suffered a strained oblique the next day. But the defense was already depleted with both John Carlson and Brooks Orpik out, so Alzner played through it. He had sports hernia surgery this summer and was also recovering from a groin injury, and as training camp approached, he had some concern he wouldn’t be able to keep up.

That ultimately wasn’t an issue, as Alzner has continued to be a steady presence for the Capitals on the blue line. In 41 games this year, he has three goals and four assists, averaging 20:14 of ice time.

“My goal always has been to get to 1,000 games,” Alzner said. “So, the sooner I can do it, the better.”

>>> With Ovechkin scoring his 1,000th point Wednesday night, former Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau, now with the Minnesota Wild, was asked about his experience coaching Ovechkin. Excellent human and Star Tribune reporter Michael Russo was kind enough to pass along Boudreau’s comments.

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“He’s the best scorer I’ve ever seen,” Boudreau told reporters. “There was one game in Montreal where he scored three on Carey Price that I didn’t see any of the three shots because they were so hard, and our benches were in perfect view of everything. He’s got the best release, and there’s not too many 6-foot-3, 235-to-240-pound hockey players that can do what he does. He’s an incredible specimen. Congratulations to him. It’s not going to be surprising to me if he gets 800, 900 goals before his tenure is done in this league.”

Boudreau was then asked whether Ovechkin is a different player now.

“He’s more mature,” he said. “I had him when he was single. It’s a little different now that he’s married and settled down. … When you’re younger, you’re not as mature and you don’t know the game as well as you do when you get older. Every player matures at a different time, and I think Ovi is in the perfect spot right now, where he’s still got that joyful youth, buoyancy to his game, but now he’s smart enough to know when he goes, when he can’t go, when he’s got to defend, when he does all of those things, so he’s a much better player all around.”

>>> After Carlson left Thursday’s practice early with an undisclosed lower-body injury, he skated Friday morning, and Trotz said he’ll play on Friday night. Here’s what the Capitals’ lineup is expected to look like:

Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-T. J. Oshie
Marcus Johansson-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Justin Williams
Brett Connolly-Lars Eller-Andre Burakovsky
Daniel Winnik-Jay Beagle-Tom Wilson

Karl Alzner-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik-Nate Schmidt

Braden Holtby (starter)
Philipp Grubauer

Taylor Chorney