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. Next up,.
#74 / Defense / Washington Capitals
Key Stat: Carlson was one of only 6 players in the league, and the only one on a playoff team, who was on the ice for 100 goals-against this season.
Interesting Stat: At even strength Carlson was top-two in toughest competition faced (by either metric) and toughest offensive zone starts, yet still finished top-two in points per 60 among Caps defensemen.
The Good: Carlson got the Caps season going with the first goal of the year against the Carolina Hurricanes, and at the end of the day Carlson ended up with a career high 9 goals on the season. Carlson, once again, played all 82 games for the Caps, which became all the more important when Mike Green missed 50 games due to various injuries. As noted above, no full-time Caps defenseman had a better offensive season than Carlson at even strength (Dennis Wideman had a great offensive season, but did his damage on the power play. Dmitry Orlov had better points-per-60 at even strength, but only played 60 games and was given much easier minutes). At the end of the season, only Wideman had more points overall than Carlson. The high-point of Carlson's regular season came in December when he became the first Caps defenseman to post back-to-back 3 point games in over 19 years (and earning him NHL third star of the week honors). Carlson also took a larger defensive role on the team this year, leading the team in blocked shots and trailing only Karl Alzner in shorthanded time on ice per game among D.
Carlson shook off his tough regular season (more on that below) and was a stud in the playoffs. He took the most shifts per game of any Caps player, and once again led the team in blocks, led the D corps in hits, shots (tied), and was the leading scorer from the blue line, despite getting significantly less power play time than Wideman or Mike Green. Carlson did all this while facing the toughest opposition on the Bruins and Rangers, and the lowest offensive zone start percentage (35.8%) of any D. Carlson also trailed only Alzner and Brooks Laich in shorthanded time on ice per game. At even strength, only Roman Hamrlik had better Corsi than Carlson among defensemen, and no D had more points per 60 at even strength. Despite the limited power play time he got in the playoffs, Carlson led the team in power play points per 60, by a lot. In short, during the playoffs Carlson was everything the Caps (and their fans) expected him to be all year. He was a beast in all three zones, in all three phases of the game.
The Bad: Carlson started the season as Caps fans expected, but he hit a rough patch in November (as did the rest of the team) and just never seemed to fully come out of it until the playoffs. Fans thought that being reunited with his old coach from the OHL might help spark Carlson's game, but it was not to be. Throughout the season fans wondered whether Carlson may have earned himself a spot in the press box for a night (or two), and began wondering whether or not he really was the top pair defenseman they had expected him to be. Things got so bad that Carlson was separated from longtime partner, as Carlson wasn't able to keep up with the difficult assignments Alzner was tasked with. For most of the regular season Carlson didn't look like the guy who had taken a hold of a top D pair position just a season ago. While Carlson did end up with a career high in goals, 5 of the 9 were scored before December 8. Between December 9 and April 6 Carlson only had 3 goals (he finished the season off with a goal against the Rangers in the regular season finale), and had zero goals in January and March. He wasn't finding many other ways to contribute offensively during that long cold stretch, as he only had 1 assist in January and 2 in March and was -20 from December through April.
At the end of the season, Carlson had the most giveaways on the team, and it wasn't close. Second place (Wideman) had 24 fewer giveaways than Carlson did. As flawed as the giveaway stat is, that's not a good place to be. Carlson had the worst goals against on ice per 60 and the worst plus/minus per 60 of any D on the team. While some of that is mitigated by the tough assignments, it's notable that Alzner had much better results than Carlson, despite even tougher minutes. Things weren't much better for Carlson on the power play, as he was on the ice for more shorthanded goals against than any other D overall, and per 60. He was moderately productive on the PP, but with all the shorties he had the worst plus/minus per 60 of any Caps D that got regular power play minutes (meaning Wideman, Green, and Orlov).
The Vote: Rate Carlson 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: Is Carlson the player the Caps have seen in the last 3 playoff seasons and the 2010-11 season, or the guy we saw in the 2011-12 regular season? Given Carlson's RFA status (without arbitration rights), what kind of contract should Caps fans expect to see him sign this summer? Is the Carlson/Alzner pair the top pair of the foreseeable future, or might Carlson get supplanted? What does Carlson have to work on to win a Norris Trophy and make Elliotte Friedman's observation in his latest 30 Thoughts come true? How does Carlson fit on a championship team, and did the Caps use him that way this year? Finally, what will it take for him to earn a 10 rating next year?