Photo credit: Rob Carr
Nothing is going right for the Washington Capitals right now. But one of the biggest problems is clear: the misfortunes of Karl Alzner and John Carlson. Of the 14 goals the Caps have allowed this season, Carlson has been on the ice for nine of them and Alzner for eight. Until they were broken up at the start of third period, this was the team’s number one defensive pairing. That’s not how you win hockey games, something Washington has demonstrated.
“I have no idea,” Alzner said when asked what was going wrong for the two.
“We’re not getting the bounces, plays that I normally would do, an easy poke check — it’s happening for the both of us,” he added. “We weren’t contributing anything good to the team.”
One problem for Alzner and Carlson could be conditioning. Neither played during the lockout. Alzner chose to skate up in Calgary during the work stoppage while Carlson took the ice with a few fellow Capitals at Kettler. Skating three times a week, though, hardly simulates playing for an NHL team. Alzner insisted, however, that fitness is not the issue — at least for himself.
“I feel fine out there,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’m too tired. It’s definitely not conditioning.”
Alzner and Carlson have have played together for most of their professional careers, becoming good friends off the ice as well. They first became a pair in 2009 playing for the Hershey Bears. While they have been separated from time to time, the two have consistently been the Capitals’ number one pair the last two seasons. But Thursday night, they were on the ice for all four Canadiens goals before coach Adam Oates mercifully put an end to the duo. For the final frame, Alzner was paired with Mike Green while Carlson shared the blueline with Tom Poti. Alzner said that he was the one who told defensive coach Callie Johansson that something had to change.
“You can’t have two guys where things aren’t going their way together,” Alzner said after the game.
Head Coach Adam Oates agreed.
“They’ve been married to each other for a long time now,” Oates told reporters. “You also have to have the ability to play with someone else.
Oates insists, though, that the two will be back together in less than 24 hours when the Caps head to New Jersey to take on the Devils.
“They were very solid with each other last year and they know each other well,” he said.
The Caps are now 0-3 — their worst start in almost two decades. They have been outscored 14-6. Their penalty kill is at 69 percent. Some struggles were to be expected as the team adjusts to a new coach with a new system. With a lockout shortened season, though, a bad start could kill the team’s playoff chances. And the fans know that. Boos rained down at the Verizon Center for the second straight game. Midway through the third period, the arena was half empty, just like the lean years a decade ago. “Ted, I want a refund!” one fan yelled as the seconds ticked away.
“Embarrassing is almost the right term right now — pathetic is a better one,” forward Troy Brouwer said outside his locker. “I feel bad for the fans. I’d like to finish a game with at least 50 percent of the fans still in the stands. Their actions are completely warranted, booing us. We haven’t earned any of their respect, any of their passion or ambition. We have to turn something around, and we have to do it fast.”