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After being cut from HS team, goalie prospect has high hopes with Caps

After being cut from HS team, goalie prospect has high hopes with Caps

Adam Carlson was given his first chance to walk away from hockey when he failed to make the junior varsity team as a sophomore at Edina High School in Minnesota.  

Two years later, he was cut from the varsity team as a senior and watched from the stands as his hometown Hornets won a state title.

Today, Carlson, 22, gets paid to play hockey and is expected to begin next season as the starting goaltender for the Capitals’ ECHL affiliate South Carolina Stingrays.

The lesson?

“Never give up,” Carlson said. “Guys who come into the pros, they’re usually the best guys on their team, so when they face something like getting cut from a team it’s hard on them."

“I was lucky enough to learn that at a young age, that you’ve got to overcome and no one is going to feel sorry for you and no one really did, as they shouldn’t. I was lucky enough to learn that at a young age — that you’ve got to battle through — and hopefully, I can continue using that in these upcoming years.”

After graduating from Edina High School, which has produced three-time Stanley Cup champion Bill Nyrop, longtime NHLer Paul Ranheim and Calgary Flames executive Brian Burke, Carlson played two seasons with the Coulee Region Chill of the North American Hockey League before getting accepted into Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pa.

Carlson went 7-7-3 with one shutout, a 2.85 goals-against average and .919 save percentage in his only season at Mercyhurst and was signed as a free agent by the Capitals in March.

Capitals goaltending coach Mitch Korn saw Carlson play in a game against Rochester Institute of Technology and liked Carlson’s size (6-foot-3, 180 pounds) and athleticism.

Korn recommended the Caps sign Carlson to help fill the goaltending depth that was lost when the Caps included Pheonix Copley in the Troy Brouwer deal that brought T.J. Oshie to Washington last summer.

“He’s a big goalie, and he’s extremely quick and athletic for a guy his size,” Korn said.

“He’s very green. One of the things we wanted to do is we wanted to find, much like we did with Pheonix Copley, a diamond in the rough. We didn’t want to go for one of the five or six high-profile free agents and get in bidding wars. We just didn’t want to go there.

“We wanted to find a guy that we thought had a lot of attributes, but was green, that was willing to start in the (ECHL) because we had the American League pretty well covered, and would be willing to work and grow and climb the ladder.

“I’m a big believer in late-bloomers. I’m a big believer in earning everything, and at the end of the day, he seemed to fit that bill.”

After agreeing to a two-year deal with the Capitals that includes signing bonuses of $92,500 in each of the next two seasons, Carlson spent time with the AHL Hershey Bears during their playoff run, learning the ins and outs of the pro game.

“It was nice to be able to do that because you don’t know what to expect going into the pro game,” Carlson said. “College, you spend a lot of time with your team and you’re kind of a big family, whereas in the pro game everyone’s got families. It was cool to be able to experience that this year and have a nice transition into next season.”

Carlson was one of three goalies at the Caps’ development camp last week, where he spent hours of on-ice training with Korn, getting his first experience with goalie screens, medicine balls and many other Kornian techniques.

“It’s an honor,” Carlson said of being tutored by Korn, who has coached Vezina Trophy winners Dominik Hasek and Braden Holtby. “He’s done a very good job with Holtby and (Philipp) Grubauer. It’s humbling to learn from the best.”

Carlson said he also considers himself a diamond in the rough and says he is willing to soak up everything Korn, former Caps goalie Olie Kolzig and Bears goalie coach Scott Murray have to offer during his development.  

“They’re looking for a competitor, a guy who can be a sponge and listen to what they have to say and then go out and do it,” Carlson said. “And if I can do those things, good things are going to happen down the road.

“Sometimes I get a little bit ahead of myself and go off in the splits and being a little crazy. It looks cool, but at the end of the day it doesn’t get you anywhere. … I know I’ve got some things I’ve got to polish off and clean up a little bit, but I know I have what it takes to be able reach the next level and with the help of Mitch I think I can do it.”

With the free-agent signing of Joe Cannata, the Capitals’ goaltending depth chart now looks like this (prospect Ilya Samsonov remains unsigned):

1. Braden Holtby

2. Philipp Grubauer

3. Joe Cannata

4. Vitek Vanecek

5. Adam Carlson

The Capitals still need to sign a backup in South Carolina who can take some of the load off Carlson, who will need to adapt to the grind of the ECHL’s 72-game season.

“I’m just looking forward to playing a lot of games,” he said. “In college you only play 35 games and I was splitting time (at Mercyhurst) so even if I do split time (in South Carolina) you’re getting a lot more playing time. And if I do go to South Carolina the weather’s a lot better than in Minnesota or Erie, so I can’t complain about that.”


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Capitals one win away from facing the Penguins ... again

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Capitals one win away from facing the Penguins ... again

The Washington Capitals are one win away from advancing to the second round of the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs

If they do beat the Blue Jackets in Game 6 or Game 7, a familiar foe awaits them.

The Pittsburgh Penguins ended their series against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday with a 8-5 win in Game 6. They will play the winner of the Capitals-Columbus Blue Jackets series.

Because of course they will.

The Penguins have beaten the Capitals in the second round in each of the past two seasons. The series went six games in 2016 and seven in 2017.

Washington’s biggest rival has been a thorn in the side of the Caps throughout the team’s history. Washington and Pittsburgh have met in the postseason 10 times. Only once have the Caps come out victorious, in 1994.

Pittsburgh has won five Stanley Cups in their history and each time, they had to beat the Caps in the playoffs to do it.

The emergence of Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin helped to reignite the Washington-Pittsburgh rivalry, but that too has been one sided. Crosby has won three Stanley Cups while Ovechkin has never advanced past the second round.

Before you despair, however, consider this. Coming into the season, no one knew what to expect from the Capitals. Expectations were low. Somehow, Washington managed to overcome the loss of several players in the offseason and managed to win the Metropolitan Division.

In a season in which the Caps have already defied expectations, perhaps this will be the year they finally get past Pittsburgh and advance to the conference final. Maybe? Please?

First things first, they still need one more win against Columbus. Game 6 will be Monday at 7:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.

How the Caps stymied Artemi Panarin
Nick Backstrom's Game 5 heroics, explained
Capitals' PK unit the series difference-maker
John Tortorella makes Game 7 proclamation

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How the Capitals have limited Columbus' top offensive threat

How the Capitals have limited Columbus' top offensive threat

The Capitals boast a roster full of superstar forwards including players like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov.

The Columbus Blue Jackets do not.

As a team, Columbus’ offensive output is more spread out among the team, except for one offensive focal point: Artemi Panarin.

Traded in the offseason to Columbus from the Chicago Blackhawks, Panarin has proven this season to be a star in his own right rather than just someone hanging on to the coattails of his former linemate in Chicago, Patrick Kane.

Defensively, shutting down Panarin was priority No. 1 for Barry Trotz and company heading into their best-of-seven first-round playoff series

“We went into the series knowing fully well how good of a player Panarin is,” the Capitals head coach told the media via a conference call on Sunday. “He's a leader for them. It's no different than what they would do with Kuznetsov, Backstrom or [Ovechkin]. It's got to be a team game.”

Initially, things did not go well for the Capitals, as Panarin tallied two goals and five assists in the first three games. In Game 4 and Game 5, however, he was held off the scoresheet and finished with a plus/minus rating of -3.

For the series as a whole, Washington has actually done a good job of shutting Panarin down. Four of his seven points came on power play opportunities, meaning the Caps limited Columbus’ top forward to only three even-strength points in five games.

Washington’s strategy coming into the series was to give Panarin a healthy dose of Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen. At 5-on-5 play, no two defensemen have been on the ice against Panarin anywhere near as much as the Orlov-Niskanen pairing. That’s been true all series. The offensive line Panarin has been matched against, however, has changed.

In Game 1, the Caps’ second line of Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky and T.J. Oshie matched primarily against Panarin’s line. That changed in Game 2. Since then, Ovechkin, Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson have been on Panarin duty.

There are several ways to approach matching lines against an opponent. Backstrom is one of the best shutdown forwards in the NHL. It makes sense for Trotz to want him out against Columbus’ most dangerous line. The problem there, however, is that Trotz was taking his team’s second line and putting it in a primarily defensive role.

In Game 1, Backstrom was on the ice for seven defensive zone faceoffs, 12 in the neutral zone and only two in the offensive zone.

The Capitals have an edge over Columbus in offensive depth, but you mitigate that edge if you force Burakovsky, Backstrom and Oshie, three of your best offensive players, to focus on shutting down Panarin.

Let’s not forget, Washington scored only one 5-on-5 goal in Game 1 and it came from Devante Smith-Pelly. They needed the second line to produce offensively so Trotz switched tactics and go best on best, top line vs. top line in a possession driven match up.

The strategy here is basically to make the opposing team's best players exhaust themselves on defense.

You can tell this strategy was effective, and not just because Panarin's offensive dried up. In Game 4, when the Blue Jackets could more easily dictate the matchups, Columbus placed Panarin away from the Caps’ top line, whether intentional or not.

Kuznetsov logged 7:27 of 5-on-5 icetime against Panarin in Game 4. Wilson (6:52), Oshie (6:46), Ovechkin (6:42) and Backstrom (6:01) all got a few cracks at Panarin, but nothing major. Those minutes are far more even than in Game 5 in Washington in which Ovechkin matched against Panarin for 12:45. Kuznetsov (12:42) and Wilson (12:30) also got plenty of opportunities against Panarin as opposed to Chandler Stephenson (2:10), Oshie (2:10) and Backstrom (2:01).

This is a match up the Caps want and the Blue Jackets are trying to get away from.

Trotz was asked about defending Panarin on Sunday.

“There's no one shadowing anybody,” Trotz said. “You know you want to take time and space from top players in this league, and if you do and you take away as many options as possible, you have a chance to limit their damage that they can do to you."

At a glance, this statement seems to contradict itself. You are going to take time and space away from Panarin, but you’re not going to shadow him? But in truth, this is exactly what the Caps are doing.

When the Caps’ top line matches against Panarin, if they continue attack and maintain possession in the offensive zone, that limits the time Panarin gets on the attack.

This will become more difficult on Monday, however, as the series shifts back to Columbus for Game 6. As the Blue Jackets get the second line change, just as in Game 4, you should expect to see Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella try to get his top line away from the Caps’ to avoid that matchup.

Shutting down Columbus’ power play and matching Panarin against both Ovechkin’s line and the Orlov-Niskanen pairing have been the keys to shutting him down. The Caps will need more of the same on Monday to finish off the series.

How Nick Backstrom saved the Capitals in Game 5
Burakovsky done for first-round, but how much longer?
Capitals' penalty kill the biggest difference maker