John Carlson

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Will John Carlson regress in the 2019-2020 season?

Will John Carlson regress in the 2019-2020 season?

During the 2018-19 campaign, John Carlson had a career year. In 80 games, the defenseman notched 70 points and finished fourth in Norris Trophy voting.

But is there reason to believe the Capitals won't put up more monster numbers next season?

Ian Tulloch of The Athletic thinks so. He recently named Carlson a candidate who will likely regress in the 2019-2020 season.

"I doubt Carlson’s goal totals are going to drop dramatically," Tulloch noted. "My bigger concern is how well he’s going to impact goal differential at five-on-five, not to mention his assist totals."

During 2018-19, Carlson's shooting percentage spiked to 12.1 percent, much higher than the eight or nine he'd been sporting throughout his career.

It's important to note that this is also at five-on-five play, so Carlson's power-play and penalty-killing abilities haven't influenced this statistic.

One reason Carlson's shooting percentage may have spiked is due to his zone starts. In the 2018-19 season, Carlson started a shift in the offensive zone 56.6 percent of the time, much higher than his career average of 49.7. More starts in the offensive zone typically mean a higher chance you'll stay there and score.

However, this would include his power-play time as well for Carlson, so it can't be the only factor.

Another factor we could look at is the rest of Carlson's common linemates and if their on-ice shooting percentages shot up as well.

Alex Oveckin's on-ice shooting percentage shot up past 12 percent for the first time since the 2009-10 season. Evgeny Kuznetsov's hit 11.8, the highest of his career. TJ Oshie and Jakub Vrana were both north of 10 percent. Tom Wilson was also just beyond 11 percent. And Carlson's most common defensive partners, Brooks Orpik and Michal Kempny, sported on-ice shooting percentages over 11 percent.

This all indicates that the increased on-ice shooting percentages were a line-wide phenomenon, if not team-wide. As a team, the Caps had a shooting percentage of 11 percent, higher than the league average of 9.5.

And there may be something to this. Below is John Carlson's 5v5 unblocked-for shot rate, courtesy of Micah Blake McCurdy. Sections of red mark higher-than-NHL-average shots, and blue is lower-than-NHL-average.

Compare that to the Caps 5v5 unblocked-for shot rate, and there's a clear pattern. The Caps get most of their shots from the high and mid slot.

Carlson's personal chart from last season is a magnification of how the Caps offense runs when it's at its best. They get to areas where they take higher-percentage shots, which is something the coaching staff worked hard to implement.

But that good news also comes with a caveat. If the team can't replicate that shot quality next season, then not only would Carlson regress next season as Tulloch thinks, it's likely that the entire team could too.

Will that regression happen next season? We'll have to wait and see.

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John Carlson, puppies team up to cheer patients at Children's National Health System

John Carlson, puppies team up to cheer patients at Children's National Health System

Patients at Children's National Health System have something new to smile about. A new addition to the pet therapy program, a puppy kissing booth opened at the hospital.

Capitals defenseman John Carlson was on hand to celebrate the ribbon-cutting.

The special event, dubbed Dr. Bear's Dog and Pony Show, was chock full of cuddly fun in the form of miniature horses and therapy dogs. 

Children were also treated to arts and crafts and refreshments.  

Carlson, himself a father, praised the program's simple effectiveness. 

"I know my kids love when we walk by any dog or when we go to the zoo and see other animals."

The pet therapy program at Children's National, part of PetSmart Charities, is designed to give ailing kids a chance to bond with animals and reduce the stress that accompanies hospital stays. 


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The baffling exclusion of John Carlson from the Norris Trophy finalists


The baffling exclusion of John Carlson from the Norris Trophy finalists

The finalists for the Norris Trophy – awarded to the defenseman who demonstrates the greatest all-around ability in the position – were unveiled on Sunday. Somehow, John Carlson was not among them.

This is the second consecutive year Carlson was a deserving candidate and the second year he will not even be among the top three.

The Norris Trophy is voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association -- of which I am a member so I guess you can blame us -- but make no mistake, this is a snub in every sense of the word and a major oversight that Carlson cannot get the recognition he deserves.

Ballots will be made public after the awards are given out. Until then, we are not supposed to divulge exactly how we voted, but I will tell you that Carlson was in my top three, and he absolutely should have been a finalist this year.

If you had asked me prior to the 2017-18 season who the most important defenseman on the Caps was, I would have told you it was Matt Niskanen. I saw Carlson as an offensive-heavy player whose skills in his own zone were lacking. I had to eat those words later as Niskanen was injured in mid-October and missed the next month of the season. During that month, Carlson averaged 27:47 of ice-time per game, which led the entire league. He showed he could contribute offensively, defensively, on the power play and penalty kill. There was nothing he could not do.

Suddenly, the Caps’ top pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Niskanen was replaced by Carlson and whoever he was paired with. That continued into this season.

But while Carlson has reshaped his image in Washington, his reputation as an offensive first player instead of an all-around defenseman persists, and it cost him.

There is no set standard every voter sticks to when it comes to evaluating players for the Norris. You can look at whatever stats you want whether it is Corsi, Fenwick, points, PDO, defensive zone starts, high-danger chances for -- the list goes on. Here’s why Carlson was in the top three of my ballot: Not only did he play exceptionally well, but the Capitals relied on him more in more situations than any other team relied on a single defenseman.

Carlson finished the season ranked eighth in the NHL in time on ice per game at 25:04. Burns finished just ahead of him with 25:06. Both Giordano (24:14) and Hedman (22:46) played less.

Carlson was among the top 40 defensemen in shorthanded time on ice per game with 2:35, something only Giordano (2:40) could boast among the other finalists. Carlson was also first among all defensemen in power play time on ice per game with 4:05, significantly more than Hedman (3:19), Giordano (3:19) or Burns (3:17).

There is no situation in which the Caps are not comfortable putting Carlson out on the ice and no situation in which he is not expected to play heavy minutes. He has taken a bigger role defensively as the team’s top shutdown pair of Orlov-Niskanen has had a down year. Despite the heavier defensive workload, Carlson still managed to finish in the top four in points among defensemen with 70, a career-high.

I am not here saying that Burns, Giordano or Hedman are not deserving of being finalists. In fact, Carlson did not finish first on my ballot. It seems crazy to me, however, that he did not finish in the top three this season or last. All three finalists had strong seasons, but Carlson’s season was just as good and he was more heavily relied upon. He is one of the top offensive blueliners, but that’s not all he is.

Until he manages to overcome that reputation, which persists through no fault of his own, he will continue to be on the outside of the Norris race looking in. And that’s a shame considering how good he has been.