Last month we looked at how the Caps could become an even more dangerous offensive team by changing their approach on zone entries, as well as the fact that Brooks Orpik was really good at defending against zone entries at the Caps defensive blue line last season.
Another thing that stands out is that Orpik is not alone among Caps’ defensemen when it comes defending the blue line well. John Carlson also did a great job denying opponents entry into the Caps zone during the 2016-17 season.
Last month at Kettler, RMNB’s Chris Gordon spoke to Carlson about his success defending against zone entries. The Caps defenseman was quick to deflect the praise and instead credit the coaching staff and his teammates.
“I think it’s more of a team functionality thing,” Carlson said. “It’s something that we work on every single day almost and I’d love to tell you I’m the best ever at it but I think it’s more about what we’re taught and the way we all do it together, not just a single guy making a great play.”
Carlson is obviously correct that he can’t be successful in his role without a sound structure and solid teammates surrounding him. Below is a clip that shows exactly that. In this clip, Karl Alzner makes an aggressive play in the neutral zone, which causes the Hurricanes’ pass to flutter into space, allowing Carlson to slide over and snuff out the attack before it begins. You’ll also see that Alex Ovechin’s positioning on the defensive side of the red line (top of your screen) allows Carlson to move towards the middle of the ice in anticipation of the play.
At the same time, Carlson’s humility downplays some of the things that he specifically does well to defend against zone entries.
Carlson is an aggressive and mobile defender. Where other defenders may be better served to sit back and make the safe play, Carlson can be more aggressive because of his skill set.
In the clip below, you can see the Sharks try to catch the Caps in a change after a Caps turnover high in the offensive zone. The pass to Patrick Marleau is just a tad too far in front of him, allowing Carlson to win the foot race to the puck and deny Marleau entry into the Caps zone.
Carlson’s instincts and ability to read the play also play a big part in his ability to deny zone entries.
In the next clip the Leafs flip the puck to neutral to try to create an odd-man rush. It almost worked. But Carlson saw the play developing early, noticed Alzner caught flat-footed at the blue line, and got in position to defend the two-on-one. Then, because he anticipated the play so well and has the skating ability to get where he needs to be, Carlson pokechecked the puck before the Leafs attack could become dangerous. You’ll then see Carlson again take possession away from the Leafs after they gather the puck again, but we’ll talk about that below the clip.
After the pokecheck on the initial rush, the Leafs are able to collect the puck again and try to create another attack. But Carlson makes the stop. He realizes that Alzner is now back in position defending the middle of the ice and that the Leafs are outnumbered by Caps in the zone. Because he recognizes this, Carlson is able to aggressively step up on the Leafs player and thwart any hopes of offense.
Carlson does a lot of things well. One of the things that may go unnoticed without Corey’s tremendous tracking data is how good he is at defending the blue line. The Caps will need all of this and more as they enter 2017-18 with some new faces on defense.
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Headline image: Amanda Bowen
Additional Reporting: Chris Gordon
Transcription: Elyse Bailey
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