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.
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.