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NHL awards watch: What does John Carlson need to do to get Norris consideration?

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NHL awards watch: What does John Carlson need to do to get Norris consideration?

When Matt Niskanen suffered an upper-body injury early in the season, it was unclear just how the Caps would replace him. After losing Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt and Kevin Shattenkirk in the offseason, Washington's blue line was already thinner heading into this season even with Niskanen healthy.

What was the team's response? John Carlson.

Ultimately, Niskanen missed 13 games with the team going 7-6-0 in his absence. The Caps did not set the world on fire, but considering NIskanen's injury forced two rookies into the top-six and Washington looked like a team that could not afford to lose any top-four defenseman, a 7-6-0 record is not bad at all.

SEE WHERE THE RACES FOR ALL THE NHL'S MAJOR INDIVIDUAL AWARDS STAND IN THIS WEEK'S NHL AWARDS WATCH

While Dmitry Orlov and Brooks Orpik both saw their minutes go up in Niskanen's absence, no one was relied upon as much as Carlson who averaged 27:47 of ice time during that stretch.

Carlson's has built a reputation as largely an offensive-defenseman, but what he really showed is how good he can be in his own end as well. Considering what he meant to the Caps during that stretch and how his play continues to excel, it is not hard to see that Carlson could get consideration for the Norris Trophy this season as the league's top defenseman.

Carlson ranks 3rd among all defensemen in points with 26 and 2nd in assists with 23. Despite being an award for defensemen, offensive numbers definitely matter for the Norris. Just ask last year's winner, Brent Burns, who tallied a whopping 29 goals out-pacing all other defensemen by a wide margin.

Carlson's ice time remains high even with the return of Niskanen. His 26:12 per game is good for fifth in the NHL, outpacing other notable defensemen such as Pittsburgh's Kris Letang (25:49), Tampa's Victor Hedman (25:47) and Montreal's Shea Weber (25:20).

But there are also a few numbers that don't go in Carlson's favor.

For all you fancy stats nerds out there, Carlson's 5-on-5 Corsi percentage is 48.36 and his Fenwick is 46.28. He also sits at a minus-2 on the season in plus/minus. Plus/minus is a very limited stat that can often paint an incomplete picture of a player (see Jeff Schultz), but it may be hard for a voter to declare Carlson as the league's top defenseman if opponents are scoring more goals than the Caps when Carlson is on the ice or if the Caps are giving up more chances, as highlighted by Corsi and Fenwick.

For comparison's sake, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty currently boasts a 52.72 5-on-5 Corsi for percentage, a 51.18 Fenwick and is a plus-18.

Anyone who has watched Carlson play this season will know those possession numbers are despite his efforts and not because of him. He has played fantastic and has been an absolutely critical piece to the Caps. But if he wants to walk away from this season with some individual hardware, the possession numbers and the plus/minus will likely have to improve.

Where does Carlson stand in the Norris race now? Find out along with all the other major awards in this week's NHL awards watch.

 

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What was the best moment of the Caps' season so far?

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USA TODAY Sports

What was the best moment of the Caps' season so far?

The bye week is a good opportunity to evaluate what happened over the course of the first half of the season and start to look forward. Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan answer the biggest questions surrounding the team at the bye.

Today's topic: What was the best moment of the Caps' season so far?

El-Bashir: Through the Caps' first 45 games, there have been some great goals, scintillating saves and thrilling overtime sessions. But the biggest moment, to me, wasn’t really moment at all. It was the day or so after the Caps cratered in Colorado, 6-2, on Nov. 16, because they came back a totally different team vs. Minnesota on Nov. 18.

Following that blowout loss to the Avalanche, Coach Barry Trotz had a “man-to-man talk with the group” and challenged each individual to look himself in the mirror. When a coach does that, there are typically two ways a season will go—to the top or down the drain. Trotz wasn’t sure which response he’d get, but he didn’t have to wait long for an answer. “The way they came out [against the Wild] told me everything I needed to know,” Trotz said to me and Rob Carlin on the Caps Extra Podcast (11/29).

RELATED: WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST SURPRISE OF THE SEASON SO FAR?

The really good stuff begins around 13:00, and it’s definitely worth a listen if you haven’t heard it:

    

Including that 3-1 win over the Wild, the Caps are 18-5-2 in their last 25 games and have shot straight to the top of the Metropolitan Division standings. Their 38 points are tied with the Golden Knights and Bruins for most in that time frame. 

Meanwhile, Alex Ovechkin has accrued 15 goals and 15 assists in those 25 games. Only four players—John Tavares, Nathan MacKinnon, Claude Giroux and Sidney Crosby—have more points during that time period.

Indeed, every season has a turning point. For the Caps, it happened, collectively, after bottoming out in the thin air of the Mile High city.

Regan: There have been several moments that have stood out from the first 45 games of the season, such as Nathan Walker becoming the first Australian to play in the NHL and scoring in his first game on a night in which Alex Ovechkin also scored four times. Jay Beagle’s buzzer-beater against the Carolina Hurricanes will also stand as one of the best moments of the season when it is all said and done.

But I will go a bit more sentimental with my pick and choose Ovechkin’s hat-trick performance in Toronto for Alex Luey.

That night could not have been any more special. Ovechkin invited Luey, a 13-year-old cancer survivor, to attend the game with his family after he heard his story. Luey and Ovechkin were virtually inseparable for the night as Luey was on the bench for warmups and then was with Ovechkin for all of his postgame interviews.

That alone would have been a touching story, but it got so much better.

MORE CAPITALS: CHECK OUT THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS!

Ovechkin promised Luey he would score for him before the game. He more than delivered with a hat-trick performance in a 4-2 win over Toronto in what was a magical night for both him and the Luey family.

You couldn’t write a story so perfect and if you did everyone would think it too unbelievable. Yet it happened and it was by far the best moment of the season.

We may be only 45 games in, but this one will be hard to top.

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What has been the biggest surprise for the Caps in the first half of the season?

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USA TODAY Sports

What has been the biggest surprise for the Caps in the first half of the season?

The bye week is a good opportunity to evaluate what happened over the course of the first half of the season and look forward to the rest of the season. Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan answer the biggest questions surrounding the team at the bye.

Today's topic: What has been the biggest surprise for the Caps in the first half of the season?

El-Bashir: While seeing the Caps sit atop the deep and difficult Metro Division is a bit unexpected, my biggest surprise at the bye is Alex Ovechkin’s return to world-class form. For the record, I wasn’t among those—and there were plenty—who were ready to write off No. 8, saying he was poised for a precipitous plunge in production following a disappointing 33 goal performance a year ago. I thought he’d bounce back…a bit, anyway. After all, we had seen him do it a couple of times before. Instead, what we appear to witnessing is a rebirth of sorts. Ovechkin, at 32, leads the NHL with 28 goals and is on pace to hit 50 for the eighth time in his career. (Last season, the top-10 goal getters were all under 30 and Sidney Crosby’s 44 led everyone.) Ovechkin is also on pace for his highest point total—89—since he posted 109 way back in 2009-10. The three-time MVP is also leading the league in shots.

RELATED: WHERE DO THE CAPS SIT IN THIS WEEK'S NHL POWER RANKINGS?

Sure, Ovechkin is playing 1:20 more per game than he did last year. But it’s not all about an extra couple of shifts. Ovechkin put in the work this offseason, and it’s showing. He’s got a gear, a burst we haven’t seen in a couple of years and, as a result, he’s getting to pucks—and creating opportunities—he couldn’t a season ago.

For Ovechkin’s legion of fans, the second half of the regular season figures to be even more fun that the first because of the milestones that are within his reach. At some point, assuming he stays healthy, Ovechkin will hit 500 assists (he’s two away), 600 goals (he’s 14 back) and 1,000 games (he needs 34 more).

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again Caps fans: savor every moment because Ovi’s on top of his game again.

MORE CAPITALS: BRIAN MACLELLAN ISN'T PLAYING COY, HE WANTS TO RE-SIGN JOHN CARLSON

Regan: My biggest surprise is the Caps’ 28-14-3 record. Given the number of players the team lost in the offseason, it was clear they were not the same team that won the Presidents’ Trophy the past two years. But how much of a step back would they take? No one was really sure what to expect. With a six-point lead over the Metropolitan Division 45 games into the season, Washington is surpassing even the most optimistic of expectations.

Not only are the Caps exceeding expectations, they are doing it in the face of obstacles that should be holding them back.

The Caps have not had the same remarkable luck with injuries as they have the past few years. T.J. Oshie, Brett Connolly, Andre Burakovsky and Matt Niskanen have all missed time due to injuries this season. Those are significant losses, especially Niskanen given the team’s thin depth on the blue line. But Alex Ovechkin’s defiance of Father Time, the emergence of Jakub Vrana and key contributions from role players like Tom Wilson and Devante Smith-Pelly have bolstered the team’s offense. Defensively, John Carlson’s career season helped mitigate the loss of Niskanen.

When you consider the players the Caps lost, the injuries the team has dealt with, that they rank dead last in shots per game, that they have two rookies playing on the blue line and their best player is 32 years old, the fact the team not only sits in first place of the tough Metropolitan Division but by a sizable six-point margin is absolutely remarkable.

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