With the Capitals’ 2015-16 season now in the rearview mirror, we continue with our numerical player-by-player roster analysis.
No. 27 Karl Alzner
Age: 27 (turns 28 on Sept. 24)
Penalty minutes: 26
Time on ice: 21:22
Playoff stats: 12 games, 0 goals, 2 assists, plus-3, 6 PIM, 21:23
Contract status: One year remaining on four-year, $11.2 million contract ($2.8 million cap hit and salary).
Please excuse Karl Alzner if he does not get a chance to read this 2015-16 evaluation of him today – his wife, Mandy, gave birth to the couple’s second child and first son, Anson Reid, on Wednesday night.
And while his seven-pound, 13-ounce newborn may be keeping him up at night this summer, Alzner’s play during the 2015-16 season certainly won’t.
Alzner is coming off his best season in the NHL, matching his career high with 21 points while logging a career-high 21:22 in ice time on a top pairing with Matt Niskanen.
Alzner was a solid presence in all three zones, stepping up his physical play in the defensive zone, increasing his hit totals from 120 in 2014-15 to 135 this season, and escalating his creativity in the offensive zone, where he assisted on a career-high 17 goals.
All of that — and the fact he has become Mr. Reliable with 458 consecutive games — should help Alzner as he enters into negotiations with the Capitals prior to his free-agent status in 2017.
But he admits the sting of losing to the Penguins in the second round of the playoffs still hurts.
“Every year you get older and you see that your window gets smaller and smaller,” he said. “But you keep going. Guys win Cups in the last year of their career or the second-to-last year. It just happens at some point. I’m a very positive person so I will hope and assume it’s going to happen next year.”
It is painfully ironic that for a player who set the franchise Iron Man record for consecutive games, Alzner was forced to watch the final two periods of the Capitals’ Game 6 overtime loss to the Penguins unable to play. He suffered a partially torn groin during the Caps’ first-round series against the Flyers and needed a cortisone shot to stay in the lineup against the Penguins before feeling a pop in the second period of Game 6 and being forced to watch the rest of the game from the bench. He said even if the Caps had forced a Game 7, he likely would not have played.
“I know that the first four games of the series, I was just out there filling a spot,” Alzner said. “I was out there and I was not hurting the team, I don’t think, but I also wasn’t helping in winning the games. That’s when you know you can still do things. But once I’m getting beat up the ice trying to chase a guy and not able to at least stay in battles, that’s when you know it’s time.”
Alzner acknowledged he battled through several injuries in early December, including a fractured thumb, a strained oblique and a pulled hip flexor, but stayed in the lineup because of injuries to defensemen John Carlson and Brooks Orpik.
“It all happened in four games (in December),” Alzner said. “It was one of those things where one thing goes and then everything goes and that was a hard time to play, too, but those are all things you can get through. You know, I don’t have to skate with my thumb and I can manage the game. But once more of the core thing goes, then you’re in trouble.”
Drafted by the Capitals with the fifth pick overall in 2007 (behind Patrick Kane, James van Riemsdyk, Kyle Turris and Thomas Hickey), Alzner came into the NHL a year before John Carlson in 2008-09 and has now been a part of seven years of playoff heartbreaks.
“Me and Carly kind of talked about it a little bit,” Alzner said. “It’s probably the hardest exit we’ve had because I felt like we had the most promise this year. We ran into a good team and we run into good teams every playoffs it seems, so you tip your cap to an extent to that team.
“But I think we had a great season, we have a lot of promise and we have a good chance to do it again next year. But like we always say, if you don’t win, it’s a disappointment and that’s kind of where I’m at right now. I’ve got to continue watching the playoffs and see how everything unfolds and then you kind of break it down from there. If you could have gotten by (Pittsburgh), if you would have had a chance (against Tampa) … that’s when you start beating yourself up.”
Alzner said he does not think the Capitals peaked too early or were victims of their own regular-season success, noting their ability to jump out to a 3-0 series lead on Philadelphia in Round 1.
“We still had that killer instinct when we needed to have it in games,” he said. “We were able to close out some games and battle back in some. I don’t think it really hurt us too much. You wouldn’t want it any other way. I’d rather finish the season like that rather than battling for every point.”
Although Alzner and Niskanen played very well together throughout the season, Capitals assistant coach Todd Reirden hinted at the possibility of reuniting Alzner and Carlson next year, with Dmitry Orlov possibly moving onto a pairing with Niskanen and Brooks Orpik sliding down to a third unit with Nate Schmidt. With 17 players under contract for next season and restricted free agents Marcus Johansson, Tom Wilson and Orlov expected to return, Alzner said he likes the Capitals’ chances of getting to their first conference final and beyond.
“You always look at your team the next year and see what type of opportunity you’re going to have,” he said. “I think we’re going to be a very similar team so I think we have another chance, another really good kick at the can.
“But it’s hard not to think about (the window closing). Every year that you don’t win you wonder if you’re going to win one. But once the season starts, you kind of forget about that. It’s kind of a thing that happens when the playoffs are still going on and you’re not in, and you get mad at everyone that wins and it’s not you. But you just keep going. If I got so mad that I wasn’t able to focus then I wouldn’t be a good player. Every year it’s the same thing: ‘I’m going to win the Cup that year.’ That’s the way I look at it.”