For the first time in almost six years the Capitals were forced to play a game without John Carlson patrolling the blue line and – what do you know? – they pitched a 2-0 shutout over the Buffalo Sabres.
With a 412-game playing streak on the line, 10 short of the club record set by Bobby Carpenter, Carlson gave himself every opportunity to play against the Sabres Monday night. But when he left the ice after pregame warmups, he knew playing with his lower body injury would be doing his teammates a disservice.
“He was honest,” Trotz said. “He said, I’m probably not going to be able to help you the way I want to. Unfortunately, we took him out. We’ll try to get him ready for (Wednesday night when the Sabres visit Verizon Center).
“To play in this league and play 400-plus games in a row, that’s pretty good, especially for defenseman when you can’t hold up like you used to and guys are taking free shots at you at 30 miles per hour. He’s pretty durable and a big guy and he’s a terrific talent.
“We missed him, but guys stepped up and that’s the blessing of having people out. You find out about your group and you find out about guys waiting for an opportunity.”
The end of Carlson’s streak leaves defenseman Karl Alzner as the Caps’ current iron man with 411 games, eleven short of Carpenter’s record.
“It’s not something anyone comes into the league looking to do and you know that it’s very unlikely it’s going to happen,” Alzner said. “I don’t know how much he cared about it deep down and if he cares about it I feel bad for him.
“But we’re at the point now, almost half way (through the season) that if we have injuries we need to be smart about it and not have something lingering. If it’s something you can’t quite get through or you’re not going to help the team, he makes the right call. He knows his body.”
With Carlson and Brooks Orpik both sidelined by lower-body injuries, the Caps went with a top pairing of Matt Niskanen (27:25) and Alzner (26:23). For Niskanen it was the second-most minutes he’s logged this season and for Alzner it was his most ice time since Oct. 22, 2013 when he played 26:32 against the Winnipeg Jets.
That left Nate Schmidt (23:07) being paired with Dmitry Orlov (19:45) on the Caps’ second defensive unit, and Taylor Chorney (12:14) matched with Connor Carrick (9:19) on the third unit.
“I thought Schmidt stepped up,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “Chorney looked really good. Alzner and Nisky were pretty strong. And I thought Connor was really good other than the (Jack) Eichel rush.
“They didn’t have a lot of really Grade A scoring chances until they pulled their goalie at the end. They had a couple good looks but it was a pretty easy night for (Braden Holtby) for the most part.”
Trotz was referring to a mad dash by Eichel in the third period when the 19-year-old rookie raced past Tom Wilson in the neutral zone, then beat Carerick between the legs with a nifty move. Carrick, who was playing his first NHL game since April 13, 2014, said he was told he was playing just before the drop of the puck.
“Right after warmups, Coach Trotz told me. ‘Hey, Carly’s not going; you’re in,’ and it was game time from there,” Carrick said. “The nerves were worse (in the) morning with the overall possibility I’d be in. But as soon as the game started I was able to get in the flow and once that happens it’s just another hockey game.”
If Carlson cannot play on Wednesday, look for the Capitals coaching staff to distribute ice time in a similar way.
“You realize how big those minutes are and how hard it is to try to make up for them,” Alzner said. “Carrick played awesome and Chorns was huge. He got the back pack today. That’s a big gap to fill and guys did an amazing job.”