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John Carlson is trying not to think about his contract...but he is

John Carlson is trying not to think about his contract...but he is

There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson this season. There is always uncertainty when a player enters a contract year, but now add in the fact that Carlson has spent training camp not knowing who is partner is going to be.

That’s a problem considering how important this season is for Carlson plus how much the Caps will rely on him.

“Oh yeah,” Carlson said Tuesday when asked if he had thought about his contract, “But I'm not really going to think too much into that. The season hasn't even started yet.”

By now you have probably heard about how the Capitals’ roster is going to take a step back this season. With salary cap constraints due to the fact that the team had to re-sign several young players to bigger contracts plus the Vegas expansion draft, Washington saw a lot of key players depart in the offseason.

RELATED: WHAT DOES WEDNESDAY'S LINEUP TELL US ABOUT THE CAPS' ROSTER?

While the loss of Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson hurts the offense, the real effect of the offseason’s losses can be seen on the defense.

Here is what the Capitals defensive pairs looked like heading into training camp:

Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
??? - John Carlson
Brooks Orpik - ???
Taylor Chorney

While there are a handful of promising prospects competing for those open spots, the problem is the second pair. There is a hole in the team’s top four and the Capitals don’t have a clear top-four defenseman to plug it with. Whoever does play there, whether it be a depth veteran like Chorney or a rookie like Bowey, that player is going to lean very heavily on Carlson.

“[Carlson’s] a good enough player to adjust to whoever his partner is,” head coach Barry Trotz said on Tuesday after practice, “And I think he's mature enough to bring his partner along too no matter who he's playing with, if he's a stay at home guy or a puck-moving, advanced guy who gets up the ice and doesn't have maybe as much in his game in order like [Dmitry Orlov] was a few years ago. We'll see where that plays, but Carly's a good defenseman and whoever we put him with he should be a real good pair for us.”

So in a contract year, Carlson will be relied upon to carry the second defensive pair with a partner he does not know yet. That is a lot for one player to deal with, but not totally unexpected.

“We talked about possibilities for him in the summer and we'll play it out,” Trotz said. “But he understands the situation. ... I think he understood where we are as a team, organization, the cap situation this summer.”

Carlson said he is not worried about who his partner might be and is instead focusing on on his own game instead.

“I think it just kind of makes you focus more on what you can't control versus what you can. We've got a lot of talented players. If there wasn't those talented players than maybe I'd have a different opinion, but just one of those things you'll wait and see and wait to hear what it will be.”

For now, Aaron Ness looks like the frontrunner to earn the spot on the second pair playing next to Carlson. The two have practiced together as a pair at practice both on Monday and Tuesday.

Carlson stressed that it is hard to get a feel for a defensive pairing from practice and that the coaches were unlikely to consult with him about it saying, “It's never been really like that. I'm sure they might ask for an opinion here or there, but other than that I don't make any decisions. That's all what they think is best for the team and that's their job.”

Even so, he was effusive in his praise of Ness.

“He's a great player,” Carlson said. “I've been saying that for however long he's been here.”

Regardless of who he plays with, the team needs this to be a big season for Carlson and so does he. A new contract is on the line.

MORE CAPITALS: BARRY TROTZ DECLARES HE WILL SUPPORT HIS PLAYERS IF THEY PROTEST THE ANTHEM

Check out the latest edition of the Capitals Faceoff Podcast!

Like what you hear? Be sure to subscribe on Apple Podcasts and wherever podcasts are available. Have a question you want answered on the podcast? Send us your questions to CapitalsFaceoff@gmail.com. Maybe we'll even read it on the air.

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Fixing their 'Swiss cheese' defense now a top priority for the Caps

Fixing their 'Swiss cheese' defense now a top priority for the Caps

Heading into the 2017-18 season, defense was a question mark for the Capitals. That question mark grew even bigger with Matt Niskanen on LTIR. Now, in the wake of an 8-2 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers and with Niskanen out until at least early November, Barry Trotz knows the team needs to fix the blue line and they need to do it fast.

“We've got to be better,” Trotz told reporters after Tuesday’s morning skate. “But there’s areas of our game that we can be better. We can be better in our own zone. We can take care of business defensively. That’s got to be our security blanket. We had too many holes in our d-zone. It was like Swiss cheese.”

RELATED: TROTZ HAS SHUFFLED THE DEFENSIVE PAIRS. WHAT DO THEY LOOK LIKE NOW?

The team’s first response to Niskanen’s injury was to recall Madison Bowey, a player who impressed in training camp and who likely would have started the season on the team if not for a salary cap crunch and his waiver exempt status.

Bowey’s first game did not go well with the lasting memory being a highlight reel deke Jakub Voracek delivered to turn Bowey around before setting up another Philadelphia goal.

Trotz took ownership of Saturday’s game saying the team did not “insulate” Bowey very well in his NHL debut.

The problem is that it will difficult to insulate him or anyone on the Caps’ defense given how thin the blue line currently is. Washington’s defense currently features two rookies in Bowey and Christian Djoos and Bowey is only one of three right-handed shots. Plus, both Bowey and Djoos are likely better options than either Taylor Chorney or Aaron Ness so it will be tough to take either rookie out of the lineup.

MORE CAPITALS: HOW TO WATCH CAPS-LEAFS

Given Washington’s salary cap constraints as they are right back up against the cap when Niskanen returns from injury and his salary is back on the books, it will be difficult for the Caps to make any sort of trade to bring in outside help. Many may point to goalie Philipp Grubauer as a trade chip, but his salary cap hit is only $1.5 million and you can subtract $650,000 from that as the team would have to recall Pheonix Copley to serve as backup. What kind of help can you really get with less than $1 million to play with?

If the team is going to turn things around and shore up its defense, it will mean improving from within.

Said Trotz, “We're in this for the long haul with our defense.”

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Game 7: Capitals vs. Maple Leafs Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

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Game 7: Capitals vs. Maple Leafs Date, Time, How to Watch, Game Thread

What: Washington Capitals vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington, D.C.

When: 7:00 p.m. ET. Coverage starts at 6:00 p.m. ET with Capitals FaceOff.

How to Watch: Capitals vs. Maple Leafs will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. (Channel Finder)

Live Stream: You can watch the Capitals vs. Maple Leafs game on NBC Sports Washington's live stream page.

WHEN IS THE CAPITALS-MAPLE LEAFS GAME?

The Capitals (3-2-1) take on the Maple Leafs (4-1-0) Tuesday, October 17 at 7:00 p.m. ET at Capital One Arena.

WHAT CHANNEL IS THE CAPITALS-MAPLE LEAFS GAME ON?

The Capitals-Maple Leafs game will be broadcast on NBC Sports Washington. Capitals FaceOff gets things started at 6:00 p.m. ET followed by Caps GameTime at 6:30 p.m. Stay with NBC Sports Washington following the game for Caps Extra followed by Caps Overtime and Caps in 30 for all your postgame coverage. (NBC Sports Washington channel Finder)

6:00 p.m. — Caps GameTime
6:30 p.m. — Caps FaceOff
7:00 p.m. — Capitals @ Flyers
9:30 p.m. — Caps Extra
10:00 p.m. — Caps OverTime
11:00 p.m. — Caps in 30

WHERE CAN I STREAM THE CAPITALS-MAPLE LEAFS GAME?

The Capitals-Maple Leafs game, as well as the pre and postgame shows, is available to stream live here through NBC Sports Washington's live stream page and is available to authenticated NBC Sports Washington subscribers on desktops, tablets, mobile devices and connected TVs anywhere in the United States.

WHAT ARE THE LINES FOR THE CAPITALS-MAPLE LEAFS GAME?

Here are the projected lines:

Forwards
Andre Burakovsky - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Jakub Vrana
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Tom Wilson
Devante Smith-Pelly - Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson

Defense
Brooks Orpik - Madison Bowey
Christian Djoos - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Taylor Chorney

Goalies
Braden Holtby starts with Philipp Grubauer as backup

Scratches
Tyler Graovac, Nathan Walker, Aaron Ness

CAPITALS-MAPLE LEAFS OPEN THREAD

Use the comment section below to discuss the game action with other Capitals fans. 

For all the latest Caps coverage, follow Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir, Capitals correspondent JJ Regan and the NBC Sports Capitals account on Twitter. Be sure check out our Capitals page and NBC Sports Washington's Facebook page.