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John Carlson: Sophomore Slump?

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It's not unusual for a young player to experience a bit of a setback in his second full season in the NHL, to go through what is commonly known as the "sophomore slump" - we've certainly seen it before. Expectations that may have soared after a rookie year filled with firsts and milestones are suddenly brought back to earth and we're reminded that developing into a full time NHLer takes time - and patience.

We're only nineteen games into the 2011-12 season, but John Carlson is showing signs of being mired in such a slump, as his performance so far has fallen fairly short of what we've come to expect after his outstanding debut.

It's not his offense that has struggled, of course; in fact, while his points/60 at even strength have dipped slightly (from 1.11 last season to 0.80 this year), his nine points actually have him on pace to slightly exceed the 37 he put up last year and he's already equaled his career power play output to this point with a 5-on-4 goal earlier this season. He's also shooting more, with 48 shots on goal putting him on pace to fire over 200 by the end of the season. 

No, it's in his own end where the trouble starts. 

Carlson has already been on the ice for twenty goals-against, a mark that is second only to Roman Hamrlik's twenty-three. For a little perspective, that's almost a third of his total for all of last year, when he was on for just sixty-six goals-against. For a little more, eighteen of those twenty opponent goals have come since the Caps' seven-game winning streak was snapped back in October, which leads the team.

Digging a bit deeper into Carlson's numbers - his fancy stats, if you will - we see a dramatic difference between this season and last (all numbers at even strength):

Corsi Rel Corsi QoC GAON/60
2010-11 Season 4.8 1.088 1.93
2011-12 Season -5.2 -1.588 2.46*

*includes only games through Saturday, November 19

As the chart above illustrates, his Corsi Rel and Corsi QoC have taken serious hits this year. Last year's Corsi Rel rating (i.e. how he compares to his teammates) of 4.8 was second among all Caps' defensemen; this year, he's dropped to fourth, just narrowly edging out Dennis Wideman - and has done so while facing weaker competition.

So what is behind this sudden slump? Some of it could be natural regression, although it's doubtful that the performance he put on last year was such an overachievement that the dropoff would be so drastic. Some of it could be due to playing a handful of games without Karl Alzner - adjusting to new defensive partners while also losing one of the team's better shutdown defensemen would have an impact on his numbers (or at least reveal where the defensive conscience was stronger in that pairing).

The most likely reason, however, is also the one that both defines the traditional sophomore slump and drives fans nutty (and coaches, no doubt): he's simply not working as hard as he did last year. With a full year in the NHL under his belt, the tendency may have been to let up on the gas a bit and forget about some of the little things that got him there in the first place.

And if that's the case, the only real cure is time.