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Karl Alzner: Sophomore Slumping

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Karl Alzner's NHL career started out as well as any Caps fan (including those within the organization) could have realistically hoped - through a dozen games, "King Karl" had his first NHL goal, three assists and a plus-eight rating while averaging more than 20 minutes of ice time per night for a team on a 9-3-0 run.

In his 39 games since, however, Alzner has no goals, six helpers and a minus-11 rating. That raises a simple question without a simple answer: what's going on with Karl Alzner?

To begin with, since November 25, 2008, Alzner has been recalled from and sent back to Hershey nine times. Over the course of those nine recalls, Alzner has played 51 NHL games, but only once this season has the former CHL Defenseman of the Year played in six consecutive games. Moreover, when he has played, it hasn't been with a consistent partner. It's clearly been a challenge for Alzner to find any sort of groove with Washington this season.

But the organization's handling of its 2007 first-round pick is only part of the problem. When given opportunity, Alzner has struggled. Here's a look at the 21-year-old's NHL career to date:

2008-09 30 1
5 -1 2
31 19:25 23 54 36 10
2009-10 21 0 5 5 -2 8 16 16:24 15 21 8 6
TOTAL 51 1
10 -3 10 47 18:11 38 75 44 16

Most notable here is the reduction in ice time, with a large portion of that three minute difference coming shorthanded, where Alzner averaged 3:07 per game a season ago, but just 1:32 this year. Why has King Karl's role been so reduced? In part, at least, because of his play. The five-on-five advanced statistics paint an ugly picture: Alzner's -3.24 rating is worst among the team's blueliners, thanks to a team-worst 3.21 GAON/60 and the second-lowest GFON/60 of that group - and that was while playing against weaker competition this season than he faced last year. The penalty killing numbers are much better for Alzner - quite good, in fact - but those have come in limited minutes and against relatively lower quality competition.

Alzner is in an interesting spot in his young career. On the one hand, he's the only defenseman from his draft class to have even ten NHL games under his belt to date. On the other hand, the following year's draft class has a handful of blueliners who are ahead of Alzner, developmentally and experientially. And, of course, Alzner has gone from being something of a franchise savior on defense to perhaps second on the organization's rearguard prospect depth chart (while playing for a team that has, frankly, been spoiled by the remarkable early NHL success that players like Alex Ovechkin, Nick Backstrom, Mike Green and Jeff Schultz have had).

As last season's trade deadline approached, teams were asking about Alzner and were turned down. As this year's deadline approaches and those same inquiries are made... one has to wonder whether George McPhee would be more willing to move one of his prized assets.

For more on Alzner, check out Corey Masisak's piece over at CSN Washington.