Wednesday morning, I set off to Kettler Capitals Iceplex on a serious mission. I was on deadline, working on a story on Braden Holtby for The New York Times. I paced around the rink until the locker room opened. When Karl Alzner, Holtby’s longtime teammate, became available, I prepared to pepper him with questions about Holtby’s breakout season, but Karl had other ideas.
“Hey, I gotta ask *you* a question!” Alzner exclaimed, pointing out the baby blue Apple Watch on my wrist. “How did you get that so fast?”
For the last four seasons, the Capitals had been on a steady decline. During their Bruce Boudreau era runs for Presidents’ Trophy, they were D.C.’s team. For fans since the 70’s and young transplants in suits, Rocking the Red was all the rage.
In 2011, the team started going downhill. Boudreau was fired, with three coaches taking his place since then. Meanwhile, the Nationals got good. The Caps were no longer fashionable. The hockey wasn’t the same either. Instead of exciting run-and-gun matches, the Caps played overly defensive games and then, under Adam Oates, just plain bad ones, missing the playoffs for the first time in seven years. Despite claiming a sellout every night, Verizon Center was littered with empty purple seats.
“We love this,” Karl Alzner, who scored Thursday, told me. “The fact that we see everybody getting excited for it and feeling good about our team and about our chance at winning some games, that’s what’s exciting for us.”
The goal was made possible by a great Andre Burakovsky breakout and a great Jay Beagle carry-in. As the puck got loose in the slot, Troy Brouwer shot it at the Islanders net. Brouwer dug the puck out of Jaro Halak’s pads before hitting Alzner, who was streaking to the net.
It might have felt the same, but it was nothing like 2010 except in the most superficial way: the Caps couldn’t score.
With a possession lead but in a two-goal hole, the Caps grew increasingly desperate in the second. Eventually the shots started getting on net, but none could be that damned Jaro Halak. And then, with a real offensive-zone presence, Mike Green executed a perfect pass to Karl Alzner. With Troy Brouwer’s big ass up front, Alzner hit the back of the net for the second time of his playoff career.
After Tuesday’s practice, NHL.com beat writer Katie Brown noticed Karl Alzner and John Carlson wearing new playoff hats. Overlaid on a silhouette of Abe Lincoln (with a hole in its head*) read the text My Man. Naturally, no one really understood the significance of the phrase or what it was doing on a team-prepared hat. Sure, the Abe Lincoln silhouette was a nod to the Caps’ post-victory Honest Abe award. But what about the phrase?
The Washington Capitals beat one of the best possession teams in the league on Sunday, but not before weathering a last-minute onslaught by the Detroit Red Wings. That onslaught included six shot attempts – five of which were blocked by Washington defenders.
Karl Alzner literally saved the game himself, diving in front of a Riley Sheahan shot with 15.8 seconds remaining. Teemu Pulkkinen’s point shot ricocheted off Matt Niskanen’s skate to a wide-open Sheahan at the left circle. With Holtby facing the other direction, Alzner sacrificed his body – much like Tom Wilson did a few minutes earlier – and blocked the attempt with an awkward double-leg slide.
On Thursday night, Adam Oates was back behind the bench at Verizon Center for the first time since being fired at the end of last season. Much has changed since then. On this night, the Capitals were playing with sticks that were familiar to them and their coach was not giving his players the cold shoulder. But the most important change, at least on this night, came on defense. Oates instituted a defense system that required blueliners to give up the puck almost immediately after gaining it. This led to forced passes and a myriad of odd-man breaks against. It turned former Norris Trophy nominees like Mike Green into subject of ridicule. The Capitals defense, on the whole, was very bad.
This year, however, things are different. In offseason, new general manager Brian MacLellan added some much needed balance to the Capitals by signing Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to big money deals. New coach Barry Trotz has also freed up its defensemen, allowing them to carry the puck when necessary. This has led to a resurgence for Green, who has 39 points this season. Other blueliners have also chipped in. Through 73 games, Karl Alzner had more than doubled his career high in goals and surpassed his career high in assists.
Karl Alzner just scored his fifth goal of the season and the 12th goal of his career.
The goal came in the first period against the New Jersey Devils (Roy Rogers alert). Alzner joined the attack, which I hope Devils coach Adam Oates hated, and hit the back of the net from below the circles.
Washington Capitals defensemen/bros-in-real-life Karl Alzner and John Carlson signed autographs for Caps fans in Silver Spring Thursday night. The event was held by Sport Chevrolet, that car dealership they did commercials for this season.
In these types of settings, athletes can be asked to sign some silly items. Example: reader Eric presented Alzner with a printed-out Words With Friends screenshot. Eric had pwned Alzner on the mobile game earlier in the year and wanted to immortalize the victory.
Instead of open-hand slapping the fan, which is what I would have done, Alzner obliged. He’s so nice. He’s really, really nice. Nicer than I.