Aww! (Photo credit: Patrick McDermott)
On December 6, 2008, Karl Alzner, a 20-year-old old defenseman one year removed from the WHL, scored his first NHL goal in a game in Toronto. Alzner had been picked fifth overall a year earlier by the Washington Capitals, ahead of current offensive stars like Logan Couture and PK Subban. Goals, though, have never been part of Alzner’s game. He is a pure shutdown defenseman. If Alzner hits the back of the net, it’s usually an accident. In the five years and one day since that goal, Alzner has added just four more tallies to his stat sheet.
On Saturday night against the Nashville Predators, Alzner scored his sixth career goal, a booming slap shot from the point that got through traffic and past goalie Marek Mazanec. It was his first goal ever at Verizon Center too, after six years and 148 games.
NHL.com pun: “Alz She Wrote”
“Can I believe it? Yes,” Alzner said with a laugh when asked about the drought. “All of the guys were well aware of that. I think that’s why the celebration was a little longer than normal because it was a big milestone for me.”
There was also another milestone for a Caps defender on Saturday: rookie Nate Schmidt scored his first career goal. In fact, Alzner said he and Schmidt had “a little bit of a battle” to see who would score first. Alzner won. His goal came late in the first period. Schmidt’s wouldn’t come until early in the third, a gap of 27:10.
Said Alzner: “In between the intermission I said ‘Alright, Smitty, now that I scored you can score one.’ So he went out and did it!”
In his six years in the NHL, Alzner’s role has grown. He now skates on the team’s top defensive pairing with Mike Green, a guy making three times Alzner’s yearly salary. Every night, Alzner is expected to shut down the opponent’s top forwards. Caps head coach Adam Oates, however, wants his defensemen to be well-rounded. Holding court at Kettler Capitals Iceplex a couple days ago, Oates stressed that he doesn’t believe there are such things as offensive defensemen or defensive defensemen in the NHL anymore. All blueliners, he said, need to be able to move the puck and, sometimes, score.
“I’ve asked him to add that to his game,” the coach said of Alzner Saturday night. ”To play in this league, you have to. You gotta play both ends of the rink if possible. Obviously every guy has his strengths, but teams move so much now as five-man units — offensively, defensively, you can’t have that gap.”