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Is It Time For a Break Up On The Blueline?

A look at a pair of mainstays on the Caps’ back end, and if they should take some time apart.

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

John Carlson and Karl Alzner are the two longest tenured members on the blueline in the Nation’s Capital, and due largely in part to the fact that they skated nearly 2000 minutes together from 2010-2012, they’re largely perceived as two peas in a pod.

But the reality is since those first two years, Carlzner have only skated 900+ minutes together twice, in 2013-2014 and then again in the current campaign. In the remaining seasons (‘12-’13, ‘14-’15, ‘15-’16), they never breached 80 minutes of shared 5v5 ice time.

Bear in mind that both blueliners were first round draft picks (Alzner - 5, Carlson - 27), and their draft pedigree combined with their early success and chemistry set the expectation for a rocksteady shutdown pair for years to come. Although Carlson is only 27 years old, and Alzner 28, with just a shade under 1100 career games played between the pair there’s enough information to understand how that early hope panned out.

Now CF% and GF% only tell a top level story, but given the considerable amount of information represented here, it’s not a bad thermometer. Basically, only one time in the four years that Carlson and Alzner have been primary partners were they a possession positive duo (that being six years ago), and twice they have been a production positive duo.

For some additional context on the latter point, the two years in which Carlzner had a favorable GF% were our current season, where Washington has the best GF% in the League, and then in 2010-2011, where the team landed at a middling 13th in the League.

There’s nothing too stark. In general, Carlzner looks like a pair that’s done a nice job neutralizing the tough minutes they’ve been fed over the years. Part of that is due to often playing on the backend of a potent offense, part of it is due to playing in front of Vezina-calibur goaltending, and part of it is their own contributions.

But now with the addition of Kevin Shattenkirk, the Capitals blueline is as deep as it’s ever been, and Todd Reirden has a multitude of pairing possibilities at his fingertips with three left-handed shots and three right-handed shots manning his corps, and it begs the question of whether or not Alzner and Carlson is the most sensible marriage.

The above information, with years during which Carlson and Alzner were primary partners highlighted in a darker blue, tells a pretty alarming story. With the exception of ‘12-’13, when Carlzner skated 79 minutes together, and ‘13-’14, when the Adam Oates-led Capitals turned in an alarmingly poor 47.7 CF%, both Carlson and Alzner have regularly turned out better possession numbers when apart from each than together.

There are a number of factors that go into this, such as sample size, quality of competition, as well as what the blueline corps looks like during any given season, but to see the trend sustained through seven years’ worth of shifting circumstances speaks to its probable veracity.

If Carlzer can maintain it’s good fortune against tough minutes, that might not be a bad way to go, but the problem there is that good fortune is fickle, and the consequences of good fortune running out increase as a function of time as we approach the postseason. With Kevin Shattenkirk, a bonafide top-four if not top-pairing defenseman, now wearing red, what better time is there to try to figure out a more sustainable look on the blueline?

Especially when you consider that the continued pairing of Alzner/Carlson probably isn’t even the most questionable decision on the back-end as it stands today.