When Mike Green went down with a head injury in the first period of Thursday night’s 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Adam Oates knew defenseman John Carlson would see a bump in ice time.
But nearly 30 minutes Thursday night and more than 31 minutes Friday night? That’s not what he had in mind.
“It’s a lot of minutes, man,” Oates said Saturday. “We’re forcing him to handle it. That’s above and beyond.”
Friday night marked the fourth time this season Carlson has topped the 30-minute mark. He leads the Capitals in average ice time [24:38] and at 24 years old he seems perfectly capable of handling the work load, but…
“It’s not optimal,” Oates said. “You don’t want a player thinking he’s going to play 30 minutes because he’ll put the governor on and he’ll ration his ice time. He’s saving it the whole time and he’s playing to careful.”
Oates said that when a defenseman plays 30 minutes he has a tendency to alter is game, perhaps staying back to conserve energy instead of joining an offensive rush when it’s available to him.
“That’s not really what you want from a guy of that caliber,” Oates said. “Halfway through the first period he’s thinking, ‘I’ve got another 25 minutes, maybe I’m not going to jump up in this rush. And that might be the rush we need.”
Carlson’s defense partner, Karl Alzner, logged 21:14 on Thursday and 23:19 on Friday, only slightly higher than the 21 minutes he averages a night.
“It’s weird,” Alzner said. “Some games you don’t even realize you played that much. It just happens. You skate easier and you make plays easisr. You’re tired, but you’re not hunched over tired.
“There have been games when I’ve played 18 minutes and I’ve been gassed, and times when I’ve played 25 minutes and you don’t notice. During a game and after a game there’s so much adrenaline. Sometimes you feel it the next day.”
Carlson and Alzner are the only two Capitals defensemen who have played in all 55 games this season. They have been supported by a cast of 10 other defenders this season as the Capitals desperately try to find the right combinations to complement their top pairing.
“The ideal situation is to have six D the entire season and by the halfway point you’re all on the same page,” Alzner said. “But that doesn’t happen very often and you have to deal with it.”
With Mike Green sidelined on Friday, the Caps turned to Tyson Strachan to take Green’s spot with Dmitry Orlov, while John Erskine and Connor Carrick carried the load on the third pairing.
“Quite honestly, I thought they did a great job,” Oates said, naming Carrick and Strachan. “We played against a team that had a couple days’ rest and we were on the road back-to-back. [Detroit’s] a very unique team, a good skill set, individual player possession team. I thought we did a good job moving the puck and handling their waves. We didn’t break down 5-on-5.”