The signing of Tomas Vokoun at $1.5 million was supposed to be the steal of the summer for the Washington Capitals.
But it’s the much younger Karl Alzner’s two-year contract at only $2.57 million this summer that looks like it’s paying off first.
Going into training camp this September, Alzner said he wanted to get off to a solid start, unlike the previous season where he felt it took him the first 15-20 games to get into a rhythm.
He leads the team in plus/minus. He’s third on the team in blocked shots, though he has 45 so far (last year, he finished with 132). Only a third into the season, he’s already over two thirds towards his entire point total for last year. According to NHL.com, he’s on pace for 23 points this season – almost double his point total from last year.
“I think I’m doing OK right now, for the most part doing my job, which is what I enjoy doing – that’s trying to shut down other players, not beon the ice for too many goals against. That’s something that I really take a lot of pride in,” Alzner said.
He’s also durable. He hasn’t missed a game this season, or last—and for a team that’s suffered injuries over the past two seasons to key defensemen like Dennis Wideman, Mike Green and John Erskine, durability is priceless. In fact, it’s a banner trait of the Capitals’ popular defensive pairing of Alzner and John Carlson. Out of the only three Capitals on the team last season that played 82 games, Carlson and Alzner were two of those.
Alzner gets the ultimate compliment from Coach Dean Evason.
“He’s a hockey player,” Evason said. “He trains hard, he plays hard, he mentally prepares. So certainly, if he put his mind to it and set a goal that he wanted to be better at the start, he’s done that.”
Alzner said he more strictly followed the rules he set for himself over the summer, and that he’s noticed the difference so far on the ice this season. Mentally, Alzner said, his work this summer helped him a lot.
While Alzner is only 31 games into his second full NHL season, his list of responsibilities could age George Clooney. He’s often matched against the opposing team’s top line. And earlier this year, when the Capitals called up 20-year-old non English-speaking Dmitry Orlov from their AHL affiliate, Alzner was the man the coaching staff decided would be the best partner to help the young defenseman in his initial NHL experience.
“Any time that you get a young player like Orly come up, you want to put him with a sound presence, and certainly Karl provides that for us,” Evason said. “And there’s no question the coaching staff has great confidence in him.”
There’s still room for Alzner to grow, as well, particularly under the tutelage of new assistant coach Jim Johnson. Alzner said Johnson is good at giving the guys confidence and shows them positive clips. And Alzner said it’s his game on the offensive blueline where his confidence most needed the boost.
“He talks to you a lot,” Alzner said. “It’s always like you have a little timeline of where he thinks you are at this time, and I really enjoy hearing that, whether it’s good or bad.”