It’s only fitting that, as the Washington Capitals open the season at home, defenseman Karl Alzner is there. He played in 599 consecutive games for the team, including seven straight home openers. And the franchise’s ultimate “Iron Man” will be on hand for another Capitals home opener Saturday night. The only difference will be his jersey.
“Super weird,” Alzner said. “Really, really funny, schedule makers.”
The Capitals moved on from several players this offseason as the salary cap forced some difficult decisions, but of those departures, Alzner had been with the organization the longest. He was drafted fifth in 2007 by Washington and than had a nine-year career here. His two children were born in this city. But when free agency arrived, the Capitals and Alzner both had to do what was best for them, so Alzner signed a five-year, $23.125 million deal with Montreal, while Washington went younger with its defense.
Though Alzner has settled into his new home, happily purchasing a house in Montreal after he realized real estate there isn’t quite as expensive as it is in Washington, his memories from playing with the Capitals are still fresh. Playing against them Saturday night will be emotional for him. When the Canadiens practiced at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Friday afternoon, Alzner found himself back in the auxiliary locker room he used 10 years ago during one of Washington’s prospect camps.
“I sat in this exact corner next to Grant McNeill my first camp, and I remember being in awe,” Alzner said. “If you know Grant McNeill, he’s a pretty rough individual. So it’s kind of funny that you start right back at square one here and get to think about some of the things.”
As the Capitals opened training camp, Alzner kept in touch with some of his former teammates. He asked longtime defense partner John Carlson how players had fared in the skate conditioning test. He wished Taylor Chorney good luck as he was trying to land a more consistent role on the team. “You still feel like you’re with those guys, because you’re friends with them,” Alzner said.
But he also had a new environment to which to devote his attention. When Washington played its second preseason game in Montreal, Alzner wasn’t in Bell Centre, preferring to avoid the traffic to go downtown. He became a Montreal resident Sept. 1, then started trying to learn the names of the trainers and equipment staff. He and his wife were also suddenly in the market for a snowblower, with harsh Montreal winters just around the corner.
This trip to Washington has required a similar balance. This is the Canadiens’ first road trip of the season, so he wanted to spend time with his new teammates and bond with them. But he also made lifelong friends in Washington, so Friday night he sent a group message to some of his former teammates saying he was around if they wanted to see him.
He had texted Alex Ovechkin on Thursday night when he saw the Capitals captain scored a hat trick against the Ottawa Senators. “Don’t block any of my shots,” Ovechkin texted back. Alzner never had to worry about that in games before, but he has recently given a lot of thought about what it would be like to block a signature Ovechkin one-timer on the power play.
“I’ve thought that I’m really happy he plays on the other side so I don’t have those one-timers on the [penalty kill] and all that stuff,” Alzner said. “I’ve went through all these things.”
He also has thought about what it’ll be like to step onto the Capital One Arena ice as the opposition. The Capitals will almost certainly show a video tribute, with highlights from his years in Washington. “There won’t be many goals,” Alzner cracked. Just a lot of good memories.
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