John Carlson turns 28 years old on Wednesday, and the National Hockey League could offer up a pretty good birthday present.
A trip to his first All-Star Game.
“It would mean a lot, but we’ll see what happens,” Carlson said Tuesday night after scoring in the Capitals’ 3-1 win over the visiting Vancouver Canucks. “Every player wants to be rewarded for what they do, and if that’s the case I’ll be real happy.”
Carlson has 34 points — five goals, 29 assists — through 43 games, already closing in on the 37 he finished with in 72 contests last year. He has the second-most total points among all defensemen — behind only the Dallas Stars’ John Klingberg — and he is averaging a career-high 26:20 of ice time. And he has been a stabilizing presence for the Capitals’ blue line that lost veterans Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk to free agency this summer, Nate Schmidt in the Las Vegas expansion draft, and has been without top-pairing defenseman Matt Niskanen for chunks of the first half due to injury.
An invitation to the All-Star Game, which will take place in Tampa on Jan. 28, would land Carlson alongside Alex Ovechkin and Capitals Coach Barry Trotz. Ovechkin, who is tied for the NHL lead with 27 goals, was selected as the Metropolitan Division captain by a fan vote. Trotz has been named the Metro team’s coach as a result of the Capitals’ status atop the division standings. And now Carlson, and possibly Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby, waits to see if the league’s hockey operations department will send him, too. Each of the four all-star squads, broken up by division, consist of six forwards, three defensemen and two goalies playing in a three-on-three tournament.
“He should be on it, absolutely,” Trotz said when asked Tuesday night to make his case for Carlson as an all-star. “In our situation, with Matt Niskanen, I think people really stepped up. John has, John has gotten better every year.”
Trotz noted Carlson’s statistics, elevated role and ability to handle tough matchups as reasons he should be selected to the all-star team. Carlson also has been a steady presence on the Capitals’ first power-play unit, where he has contributed two goals and 13 of his 16 assists. It is often his job to slide passes onto Ovechkin’s stick in the left faceoff circle, from which the star captain most often rockets shots at the net. Other Metropolitan Division defensemen with strong all-star cases are the Philadelphia Flyers’ Shayne Gostisbehere (nine goals, 23 assists), the New York Rangers’ Kevin Shattenkirk (five goals, 18 assists) and the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Zach Werenski (11 goals, nine assists).
On Tuesday, Carlson’ scored at even strength at the end of a wacky sequence. A collision behind the Canucks’ net forced the net to tip onto goaltender Jacob Markstrom. The play continued, and Markstrom appeared stuck under the tilted net as Canucks defenseman Michael Del Zotto tried to push it off him. That is when Carlson fired a one-time slap shot from long range, and the puck pinballed in front before trickling past Markstrom for the Capitals’ first goal.
Carlson laughed while celebrating in a crowd of teammates. Now he waits to see if more good fortune is coming his way.
“I think everybody thinks about it,” he said Tuesday night. “It’s a tough team to sneak into because there are so many other great players who are at the top of the league. So yeah, I think everybody wants to go though.”
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