With the Tampa Bay Lightning in town for a Friday evening matchup [5 p.m. on CSN], the Capitals will face off with one of the best teams in the NHL at keeping their opponents off the scoreboard. Goalie Ben Bishop is playing at an All-Star level and having former second overall pick Victor Hedman ahead of him on the blue line surely hasn't hurt.
Hedman has carried over a record-setting playoff run to this season where he has blossomed into one of the best defensemen in the NHL.
"He looks like a player that crosses that threshold now as an elite defenseman in this league," Caps coach Barry Trotz said.
"[No one is] big and that fast. He's grown into being an elite defenseman who has a great skillet. I think the skills were always there. Obviously, he wouldn't have been drafted where he was. It was a pretty good class. I think as players mature, he's matured into a real top-end player and probably has accepted the role of being that top guy and doesn't shy away from it. He actually probably relishes it."
He wasn't the No. 2 pick, but the Capitals have their own blue chip defenseman in John Carlson. The 25-year-old enjoyed a breakout season offensively in 2014-15 with 55 points (12 goals, 43 assists) in 82 games, but Trotz thinks he still has room to grow. In fact, he thinks Carlson has another leap within him, one that could perhaps mirror the one Hedman has already made.
"I think we're trying to get John into that role. I think he's closer now than he was at the start of last year," Trotz said. "I think everybody gets to their potential if they want to at different times. That's just human nature where players in situations dictate how fast and how determined you are to get [there] when you can be the best that you can be."
Carlson is still getting accustomed to his partner on the Caps blue line, Nate Schmidt. Trotz has seen growth in the two's relationship on the ice.
"I think it first comes with knowing each other as players. Instinctively, they both are good skaters and want to join the rush at times. I think just understanding when Nate was going to go and when Carly was going to go, just getting a comfort level between the two. I think on the breakouts you see a lot more detail in the execution with positioning and also in terms of some deception, so that you're not easy to forecheck. That's improved in the last week or so here. All those things are set, it's just getting a comfort level with your partner," he said.