So it's another game, another gruesome injury for the Washington Capitals. This time, it's Tom Poti, the rearguard who has been on ice for just a single goal against at even-strength in this first round series vs. Montreal, logged the most PK minutes of all Caps skaters for a unit that has killed minors at a 81.5% clip (eighth-best amongst the 16 first round teams), and served as an unlikely catalyst with the fists as well.
How does a team now facing elimination replace this stalwart on defense, his over twenty-one minutes of TOI/G which has helped limit a surprisingly dynamic Canadiens team to 28 shots or less in three of the six contests to date? Again give a sweater to swift skating, and fellow lefty, Tyler Sloan? Tap the rugged John Erskine for duty for the first time in this series? No. It's time, instead, for the Stanley Cup playoff debut of the "other" pride of Burnaby, BC: Karl Alzner.
Just as Habs' recall of AHL standout defenseman P.K. Subban brought "instant energy" to a team facing the end of its season at home, so can Alzner bring some jump to a team heavily battered already by the war of attrition that is the Cup playoffs.
Alzner, by many accounts, didn't have a great NHL season in his 21 games played for Les Capitals in 2009-10. (As opposed to his dominant season for the Hershey Bears.) Surely the fact that he was recalled from, and sent down to, Hershey an astounding six times had something to do with it. And still, on the penalty kill -- where Mr. Poti will most sorely be missed -- King Karl fared markedly better in his limited NHL action than did Messrs. Sloan and Erskine.
But we know what Alzner brings to the table. Heady plays born of swift decisions. A suffocating presence along the boards. Enough speed to catch up to the Habs' snipers when necessary. And when he's on, near Rod Langway-like positioning. In short, a well-rounded game to effectively replace a top-four D.
On Japers' Rink Radio two weeks ago, the play-by-play voice of the Bears, John Walton, agreed that Alzner is the best defenseman in the AHL. And then there was this from Tim Leone this morning, as the Bears prepare to take a commanding 3-0 lead in their second-round series vs. Albany:
Lefty Karl Alzner has carried a heavy load. He has done a lot of double-shifting and hauled a lot of minutes while being a steadying influence on his partners.
"When you’ve got a guy who manages minutes like Alzner, you can afford to put him out there a lot more," [Bears assistant coach Troy] Mann said.
"Alzner raises everybody’s game. Even [Sean] Collins, who, let’s be honest, he didn’t have a great season, but he’s played really well here since Carly went up [to Washington]. That has to do with Collie’s play, but it also has to do with Alzner, as well."
Mann said Alzner, averaging 26-27 minutes a game, played more than 35 against Albany in Game 1, which went to overtime.
And so, tomorrow, we long to see the "future is now" pairing of Alzner and Real American Hero John Carlson. The one that worked so brilliantly in Hershey, now together in the Big Show. The one we all longed for, and projected in so many comments and bar stool discussions, even two seasons ago. The duo, featuring a ruthlessly efficient, stay-at-home blueliner and an electric two-way pair mate with a booming shot, to propel the Caps into round two.
On the verge of yet another Game Seven, we can only hope that a pair of World Junior Championship and Calder Cup heroes can bring their winning magic to the next, and greatest, level.