Carlson making strong pitch for Team USA

Carlson making strong pitch for Team USA
November 18, 2013, 4:45 pm
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Caps top 5 plays of the week: 11.18.13

Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson checks St. Louis Blues left wing Alexander Steen into the boards during the first period at Verizon Center.

(Paul Frederiksen-USA TODAY Sports)

A month from now, general manager David Poile and the men’s U.S. Olympic hockey team management group will be making their final arguments on which NHL players should be taken to Sochi, Russia for the 2014 Winter Games.

Capitals defenseman John Carlson is making a strong case to be on the final list. With five goals in his last eight games and just four penalty minutes in his first 21 games, Carlson has emerged as a legitimate right-handed candidate on a U.S. team that should be stacked on the blue line.

“If you watch the last 10 games I don’t think it would be any question,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said. “I mean, he played 32 minutes the other night [in Detroit]. He and Alzner have been our shutdown guys. They both played are playing fantastic hockey. With Mike [Green] out, he’s doing PP. He’s got five goals now. Come grab him.”

If only it were that easy. Carlson is one of 19 defenseman who participated in the U.S. Olympic orientation camp at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in August.

Others included Zach Bogosian, Dustin Byfuglien, Danny DeKeyser, Justin Faulk, Cam Fowler, Jake Gardiner, John Gibson, Erik Johnson, Jack Johnson, Seth Jones, Nick Leddy, Paul Martin, Ryan McDonagh, Brooks Orpik, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan Suter, Jacob Trouba and Keith Yandle.  

“There are guys like Zach Parise and David Backes who are automatic,” said Team USA assistant general manager Ray Shero, who attended Sunday night’s game between the Capitals and St. Louis Blues. “Carlson is one of those guys we need to see a lot. He could be a player who can really help us, especially on the bigger ice surface.”

Shero said there are a handful of players – he mentioned Blue Jackets center Brandon Dubinsky as one – who were not invited to the orientation camp but are making a strong bid to make the U.S. team.

Shero also said he was surprised at how well Nashville rookie Seth Jones [2 goals, 6 assists, 24:04 average ice time] has played. And then there’s Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski, who is tied with Yandle for most points among U.S-born defensemen with 16 points but was not invited to the orientation camp.

Carlson ranks 11th among U.S. defensemen with nine points and seventh in average ice time with 23:42. His five goals, two assists and plus-5 rating over his past eight games marks a dramatic improvement over his slow start, when he had just two assists and was a minus-4 after 13 games.

“I feel in the beginning of the year I was getting chances and just didn’t really cash in on them,” Carlson said. “Once you get on a roll you feel a lot better and the net looks a little bigger to you. You take as many as you can.”

He said he’s trying not to place too much emphasis on becoming the lone American representative on the Capitals, who have several other Olympic candidates, including Alex Ovechkin [Russia], Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson [Sweden], Karl Alzner, Mike Green and Braden Holtby [Canada], and Marty Erat and Michal Neuvirth [Czech Republic].

But it has crossed his mind.

“Obviously, everyone thinks about it,” Carlson said. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. But I’m worried about my team and that’s my goal right now. If I get to the next goal, that’s great. But I’m not going change where my head’s at right now for something that I don’t know what’s going to be.”