Michal Neuvirth make a save on the bewildered $100 million dollar man (Photo credit: Bruce Bennett).
It’s easy to forget about John Carlson.
The rookie Washington Capitals defenseman logs 20 minutes a night, rarely makes stone-headed blunders and chips in the occasional pressure on transition.
Yet as the Caps nudge ever closer to clinching a fourth straight Southeast Division championship, Carlson’s rock-solid contributions are becoming increasingly harder to ignore.
The New Jersey native had two assists, logged almost 23 minutes of ice time and played nearly flawless hockey in a 3-0 shutout win of the New Jersey Devils. The win tied the Capitals for first place in the Eastern Conference with the Philadelphia Flyers and made an improbable New Jersey playoff bid seem even more unlikely.
Despite moving into third-place on the all-time Washington Capitals points list for rookies, Carlson was not named one of the three stars of the night. Yet his sharp work while joining the attack led to two goals, and his steadiness in the back helped the brilliant Michal Neuvirth register his fourth shutout and third since February 4.
It was a rough night for legendary Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur. The 38 year-old gave up three goals on just 12 shots, including a slap shot goal by Jeff Schultz, of all people, with 13:50 to go in the first period. It was Schultz’s first goal in more than a year, and ensured the Capitals would actually have a lead at the end of the first period. I nearly passed out, suffering from total shock that Washington would not need to rally on this night.
Later, Alex Ovechkin and Carlson would get into the act, setting up Mike Knuble about as brilliantly as can be. Somehow, Ovechkin lasered a cross-ice pass right onto Carlson’s stick. He centered the puck to Knuble, who beat Brodeur rather easily with 15:58 to go in the second period.
After the Capitals killed off a four-minute double-minor penalty on Matt Hendricks for high-sticking, Knuble sealed it with a snapshot redirection courtesy of a feed from Ovechkin. Carlson, of course, started the play off in transition by finding the Great Eight.
Capitals fans are generally enthusiastic about the idea of having Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom signed long-term. But Carlson, 21, sure looks like he’s well on his way to becoming one of the top American defensemen of his era. His mom, apparently, is also of significance. She fed several of the players at St. Patrick’s Day feast Thursday, complete with every type of meat imaginable and salad to help digestion. Joe B. sounded like he was considering eating his own arm while rehashing the menu options.
Onto the notes:
- A few weeks back, I was highly critical of the Versus commentators who seemed to think the Capitals wouldn’t be able to operate without one of the League’s top face-off men in David Steckel. Well, I guess we’ll never know. Steckel and his mighty face-off ability missed the game due to an upper-body injury. So did Jason Arnott, who was traded along with to the Caps for Steckel along with a second-round pick in the 2012 NHL Draft. Hmm, who got the better end of that deal? Oh, wait. The Caps did. Why? Because Arnott can do one heck of a lot more than win face-offs.
- The Capitals needed the Hurricanes to lose to clinch a playoff bid. Carolina won, however, so it will be the next Washington victory that will lock up a playoff spot.
- The Caps were outshot 33-12. It was the lowest shot total of the season for the Capitals and Washington’s largest deficit in SOG all year. Not that it mattered.
- The Capitals were out-chanced 19-nine for the game. First period: four five-on-five chances. Second period: three chances. Third period: two chances. Yep, not a lot going on.
- Dinged-up defender Mike Green is eligible to return next week, but why rush him back? No need. Let him get healthy for the playoffs.
- The Capitals reached 20 road wins for a franchise record fourth consecutive season. That’s quite an accomplishment, one I hope carries over into the playoffs.
- Ilya Kovalchuk leads the NHL in giveaways, which is ironic because the Devils essentially gave away $100 million when they signed them to that ridiculous contract.
- Three stars of the game: Neuvirth, Knuble and Ovechkin. All three were deserving, but I thought Carlson had his best game in a while. Defensemen are like offensive linemen in football. They don’t get the publicity unless they do something stupid.
- Nicklas Backstrom returned from injury, playing 17 minutes, though not with Ovi. Marcus Johansson centered the first-line of Ovechkin and Knuble.
- Give Joe B. credit. He pointed out that Neuvirth looked great in the morning practice. I give Beninati props for making it to a morning practice after his St. Patrick’s Day festivities.
The Capitals dealt the playoff hopes of the resurgent New Jersey Devils a crippling blow with a 3-0 win Friday night. Sure, Knuble scored twice, Ovechkin had two crafty assists and Neuvirth stopped everything coming his way. Yet Carlson stood out on a night when the Capitals continued to play short key defensemen in the quest to lock up a fourth straight Southeast Division title.
Additional reporting by Neil Greenberg, Chris Gordon and Ian Oland.