From Alzner to Wideman, we're taking a look at and grading (please read the criteria below) the 2011-12 season for every player who laced 'em up for the Caps for a significant number of games during the campaign, with an eye towards 2012-13. First up, Karl Alzner.
#27 / Defenseman / Washington Capitals
Sep 24, 1988
2 (and parts of two others)
$1,285,000 cap hit through 2012-13; RFA summer 2013
Key Stat: Alzner has only missed one game in his NHL career due to injury, and has played every game, regular season and playoffs, in each of the past two seasons.
The Good: If 2010-11 was Alzner's breakout season, 2011-12 was confirmation that it was no fluke and that Karl Alzner was exactly the player the Caps thought he would be when they drafted him fifth overall in 2007.
Despite one or two rough spots along the way, Alzner turned in a spectacular 2011-12, defensively. In fact, the only other defensemen in hockey to face tougher competition (as measured by Corsi Rel QoC) who were on the ice for fewer goals-against per sixty minutes of five-on-five ice time were Ryan McDonagh and Nicklas Lidstrom (go by straight QualComp and Lidstrom drops off that short list). Alzner led the Caps in shorthanded ice time and plus-minus (tied, which is pretty remarkable considering that he spent two-thirds of his even-strength shifts riding shotgun on John Carlson's sophomore slump) and finished third on the team in blocked shots, while starting a higher percentage of his non-neutral, five-on-five shifts that commenced with a faceoff in the defensive zone than any other rearguard on the team. And while he'll never be confused with his high-scoring, puck-moving blueline brethren, King Karl set new career highs in assists and points. (And while he'll never be confused with his mitt-dropping, pugilistic colleagues, he earned his first fighting major since juniors when he took on Steve Downie back in January).
As good as his regular-season was, Alzner stepped his game up in the playoffs and was only on the ice for eight five-on-five goals in 14 games while consistently facing (and sometimes mocking) the most-skilled opposing forwards. He even chipped in a couple of helpers along the way for good measure, and in 24 career NHL playoff games (with an average ice time of 23:41 per game) has yet to commit a penalty.
The Bad: Alzner has just one goal in his last 164 games (including the playoffs), but that's almost neither here nor there. Almost.
If there's one area of concern, it might be Alzner's penalty-killing, and it's debatable how much blame to pin on Alzner there. But as mentioned above, he led the team in shorthanded ice time on a penalty kill that finished in the bottom-third of the League. Only nine players were on the ice for more power-play goals-against than Alzner this season, and among Caps blueliners, only Jeff Schultz was on for more per-minute. Alzner didn't get the goaltending behind him that some of his teammates got... but when he was killing penalties, shots were headed towards the Caps net at a relatively high rate, so maybe he was a contributor to that fact.
But as the penalty kill righted the ship in the playoffs, so too did Alzner in his shorthanded role - through the first eight games of the playoffs, the Caps killed 92.6% of the man-down situations they'd faced and Alzner hadn't been on the ice for either of the two failed attempts; through the first eleven, the Caps were 88.9% successful on the kill and Alzner had been on the ice for one of four power-play goals-against; in Game 12, the Rangers struck twice with the extra man and Alzner was on the ice for both of them. He'd end the playoffs having been on for just three power-play goals-against while getting more shorthanded ice time than anyone else for the best penalty-kill in the Eastern Conference. As Alzner goes, so goes the penalty kill (and, perhaps, vice versa).
The Vote: Rate Alzner below on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the best) based on his performance relative to his potential and your expectations for the season - if he had the best year you could have imagined him having, give him a 10; if he more or less played as you expected he would, give him a 5 or a 6; if he had the worst year you could have imagined him having, give him a 1.
The Discussion: Alzner could sign a long-term extension any time after June 30 - should the Caps explore that possibility (and if so, on what terms), or is there more "wait and see" on Alzner on which to be waited and seen? In what areas of Alzner's game is it reasonable to expect him to improve? Finally, what will it take for him to earn a 10 rating next year?