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Rest, Assured: Looking at Ways to Manage Carlson’s Minutes

Investigating where the Caps can cut back on John Carlson’s hefty workload

Washington Capitals v Vancouver Canucks Photo by Derek Cain/NHLI via Getty Images

Unless you’ve been living under a rock over the last month, you’re probably pretty familiar with just about every John Carlson stat right now. Not only is he third in NHL scoring among all players, but he has become the second-highest scoring defensemen ever for a single month of October, with seven goals and 16 assists for 23 points in 14 games. The only other defensemen to have more points in an October stretch is Al Macinnis who, in the 1990-1991 season, had 25 points in 13 games. That’s some great company to be apart of.

Carlson probably isn’t going to finish the season with the 123 points he’s currently on pace to hit (...right?), but one way to keep his point totals up is to bring down his ice time. That may sound counter-intuitive, but as of now, Carlson is third in the league in ice time per game, clocking in at 25:46 per night - and that’s a hefty load.

Nearly 26 minutes a game over the course of an 82-game season can really wear a player down by the time they reach April. And if the Capitals want Carlson to be fresher come postseason, they should start tweaking his ice time now; leading up to the team’s Cup run two seasons ago, Carlson averaged almost a full minute less than he is now (and we saw what he was able to accomplish even in that time).

But where do you trim the minutes? You don’t exactly want to cut his even strength or power play time, because he’s an elite offensive player in general and one of the engines driving that power play.

That leaves the penalty kill. Carlson averages close to two minutes of penalty kill time per game, which adds up to over 150 minutes over the course of a season. That’s a lot of time spent in an area that’s not necessarily his strength... which isn’t to say he’s bad at it, of course, just that the rest of the Caps’ blueline has been better. If they get the bulk of the PK time, it frees Carlson up to do what he does best: generate offense, something that’s not really a goal of the penalty kill.

It’s possible that the plan all along was to start Carlson with a heavier shorthanded workload early, especially with Michal Kempny’s early-season absence, and then bring it down over time. He averaged 2:35 per night last season, which dropped to 2:11 earlier this year and is now down under two minutes since Kempny returned. That’s a good sign that the Caps’ coaching staff is on the same page in terms of bringing those minutes down.

If you ask Carlson, he’d likely say he could play 30 minutes a night and be fine. But the margin of error to make a long postseason run is so slim, and every little advantage a team can get, they should take — including finding ways to rest their best defenseman (who is turning 30 in a matter of months) whenever they can. It could be a benefit to both the player and the team down the line.