Sunday, January 18, 2009

Alzner continues to grow as member of Capitals

Over the past few games, rookie defenseman Karl Alzner has seen a drop in ice time.

Part of that has to do with line management, as coach Bruce Boudreau doesn't want to see Alzner, along with defensive partner Bryan Helmer out against the opponents top lines.

The other part of the receding minutes equates to the lack of confidence Karl has played with lately. It started becoming apparent that his game had changed since his call up in November, and that he was struggling.

Then I read up on Tarik's blog and it all made sense.

[Bruce] Boudreau had a heart-to-heart with defenseman Karl Alzner a few days ago after suspecting that the rookie was becoming distracted by the possibility of being sent back to Hershey for salary cap reasons. (When Poti returns, unless the GM George McPhee manages to clear space some other way, Alzner will likely have to go down.)

"I talked to him because you can't do that - it'll kill you," Boudreau said. "Trying to control things that you can't control is murderous on your psyche. If it just so happens that there's an issue, that will happen anyway, whether you scored five goals tonight or didn't score five goals tonight or played 35 minutes. I told him to just go out an play."

"He struggled there for a few games, so I knew something was bothering him," he added.

Alzner said: "I was worrying about getting sent down much too much earlier. About a week ago, that's what I was thinking about. I know the situation. I know who is going to be coming back and approximately when. If it happens, it happens. Not too many guys get to play a full season, or even a half season, when they are 20 years old. My focus now is to make it hard for them."

Since their chat, Alzner seems to be regaining the confidence he showed through the month of December. His minutes are still in the 13 minute range, but his play has been noticeably better.

Case in point, Saturday night's home game against the Bruins. Washington was nursing a one goal lead late in the third period, when John Erskine took an unnecessary elbowing penalty.

With their goalie pulled, the Bruins had a 6-4 man advantage and were controlling the play rather effectively, when Karl Alzner made a crucial defensive play to eliminate a cross ice pass to David Kregci, one of Boston's leading scorers. After intercepting the pass, Alzner calmly dumped the puck the length of the ice ending Boston's chances at a comeback. (video available HERE)

Despite his effective play, it is widely believed that Alzner will be sent down once the defensive corps regains it's health, but it will be strictly driven by the financial position that the Capitals find themselves in.

At the very least, the young Burnaby, BC native got a taste of the NHL this year. Next year will be his chance to step into a more influential role with the club and grow from there.

It is of my personal opinion the Alzner has all the tools to be amongst the top 10 defensive rearguards in this league. It's up to him to continue to build on them, whether in the NHL or not.

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