Highlights: Senators 3, Capitals 1
Like hockey fans across North America, Capitals defenseman John Carlson will be watching Wednesday’s Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium in frigid Ann Arbor, Mich.
Well, at least he’ll be watching the end of the game.
Immediately following the 1 p.m. outdoor showdown between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs, Team USA will announce its 25-man roster for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and Carlson has an excellent chance of representing his country.
“To me, that’s an easy answer,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said. “He should be on it because he’s one of the best defensemen in the league.”
Carlson, a 23-year-old native of Natick, Mass., is tied with Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien for second among American-born NHL defensemen with seven goals, one behind Boston’s Torey Krug. Carlson ranks 14th in points  and fifth in ice time [24:41] among American defensemen in the NHL.
“He plays a lot of minutes, plays physical, he’s got an unlimited tank,” Oates said. “He plays every situation and does anything you ask of him.”
The U.S. team will be selected by a group of NHL coaches and general managers, headed by Nashville Predators general manager David Poile, who has been complimentary of Carlson since inviting him to the Team USA orientation camp that took place at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in Arlington in August.
Carlson’s defense partner, Karl Alzner, agrees that Carlson is worthy of wearing his country’s colors during the Winter Games, which will take place from Feb. 8-17. Among those battling Carlson for a roster spot are Byfuglien, Keith Yandle, Justin Faulk, Seth Jones, Jack Johnson and Brooks Orpik.
“If you look at all the other D that are in contention for that team, I definitely think he’s in the top eight of those guys, in my opinion at least,” Alzner said. “I don’t know what the coaching staff is looking for and what management is looking for, but I think he’s played very good and he definitely deserves to be there.”
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma and former Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette are on the Team USA coaching staff and both are familiar with Carlson’s increased responsibilities with the Capitals in the past two seasons.
“Greenie [Mike Green] got hurt [last season] and unfortunately for us, Greenie’s been hurt a lot, and by virtue of that Carly’s had to grow and he’s handled it.”
Carlson has replaced Green on the Caps’ top power play unit and has been paired with Alzner at even strength and on the No. 1 penalty killing unit as well. One of the few blemishes on Carlson’s resume is his minus-2 rating, but Alzner said he does not expect that to cloud Team USA’s opinion of him.
“Statistically, the last few game it hasn’t looked like we’d like it to, but I don’t think they’re going to go by who’s at the top of the scoring leaders,” Alzner said. “A win in the Olympics is too important. This isn’t picking an All-Star team.”
Alzner was invited to Canada’s Olympic orientation camp and is having a quietly effective season with one goal, six assists and a minus-4 rating while averaging 21:20 in ice time.
“Whether it’s me or somebody else, I’m still a fan of Team Canada. I would just prefer that I’m on the team. I’d be thrilled to make it.”
Other Capitals vying for Olympic berths include Green and Braden Holtby [Team Canada], Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johansson [Team Sweden], Marty Erat and Michal Neuvirth [Team Czech Republic] and Alex Ovechkin [Team Russia].
Olympic rosters must be submitted by Jan. 7.
"It’s just about wanting to know," Alzner said. "You want to know whether you're there or you’re going to be watching it. It’s not a big focus by any means, but it’s in the back of our minds."