By Chris Cerullo and Katie Adler
The Washington Capitals have been without star defenseman John Carlson since December 23 when the veteran blueliner took a direct slap shot to the head from Winnipeg Jets rearguard Brenden Dillon.
Carlson immediately left the game, bleeding profusely on the ice. He has not played a game since, leaving the team without their number one defenseman for 34 games and counting. Months after the injury, Carlson has inched towards recovery. He accompanied the team for part of their western road trip, and began to practice with the team in a no-contact jersey last week.
Now, Tarik El-Bashir, via a report in The Athletic, has revealed the extent of Carlson’s injury. The details are pretty scary.
The booming drive from the point struck Carlson in the side of the head, leaving him with a small skull fracture above his right ear and a severed temporal artery. Despite the severity of his injuries, he says that did not lose consciousness and escaped the injury without a concussion.
“I just got struck by lightning,” Carlson told El-Bashir. “That’s the only way to describe it. It was bleeding so much. The only way I could describe it is, just survival.”
The injury proved too severe for in-arena medical care to treat. As a result, Carlson was taken to the hospital after the game, remaining overnight.
Making matters worse, Carlson’s injury meant he missed Alex Ovechkin’s empty-net goal that night, the 802nd of his career. The legendary tally pushed him past Gordie Howe into second place on the all-time goal-scoring list.
While the Capitals bench emptied and players swarmed Ovi on the ice, Carlson had to experience that moment on a stretcher as he was wheeled into an ambulance.
“I couldn’t see anything but I could hear it,” Carlson said. “At that point, I kind of had my bearings. At first, it sounded like a normal goal but the roar didn’t stop. Then I hear (Ovi’s goal) song and I know what’s happening.
“Then you start feeling sorry for yourself,” he added. “It’s a big day for the Caps, for Ovi. I’m injured and it sucks.”
The slapshot lacerated Carlson’s artery, leaving a scar near his ear. Carlson’s wife Gina recounted back in January that her husband’s ear had to be partially reattached, likely due to the severed artery.
“With your ear back on 🙈, you came home from the hospital & did it all,” Gina Carlson said on Instagram. She later added, “Your strength doesn’t even come close to your heart and the husband and dad you are.”
Carlson’s injury marked an unfortunate turning point in the Capitals’ season. In the month preceding the injury, the Capitals posted a record of 11-3-1. Over Carlson’s 34-game absence, they’ve played below .500, with a record of 14-17-3.
Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan has laid the blame for the lackluster season at least partially on Carlson’s injury. Speaking to the media after the trade deadline, MacLellan expounded on the impact of Carlson’s absence.
“I thought we had a really good December where we outplayed teams and played really well,” he said. “Had a really good record. Then John went down and that’s when I think our inconsistency started. It’s hard to replace a guy like him.
“We bumped guys up in the lineup and increased their minutes, which most of them handled well, but it’s still not the same as having John in there playing both power play and penalty killing. I do think it had a big effect on the results from the end of December on…Having Carly in there would have had a big impact on our lineup.”
It’s impossible to know how much the addition of a healthy John Carlson would have improved the Capitals’ playoff chances. Laying the blame solely in injuries oversimplifies underlying issues with the team’s makeup. Regardless, the injury proved a terrifying low point in a difficult season.
Months later, Carlson is on the mend and nearing a return to the lineup. Per El-Bashir, Carlson and the team are aiming for a March 23 return date against the Chicago Blackhawks. That timeline matches MacLellan’s earlier projection of a potential return in late March. Should Carlson dress that night, his return will come exactly three months after he was injured.
“It was lot of work and time put in,” Carlson said. “At three months, medically, there’s no more healing that can happen. This is what I do, this is what I want to do.”
You can find Tarik’s must-read piece here.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
Russian Machine Never Breaks is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
All original content on russianmachineneverbreaks.com is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)– unless otherwise stated or superseded by another license. You are free to share, copy, and remix this content so long as it is attributed, done for noncommercial purposes, and done so under a license similar to this one.