As the 2011-12 season has come to a close, the time has come to evaluate what it meant for the Capitals, both as a team and as individuals. As such, as the summer progresses, I will be writing a report card, or individual evaluation, for each player who played in 9 (~10%) of the team's games, or 4 playoff games. Next up is defenseman Karl Alzner, who finished his fourth NHL season, all with the Capitals, on this past year's campaign.
Season Summary: Alzner was a rock virtually all season again for the Capitals, playing in all 82 games for the second consecutive season. In those 82 games, Alzner set career highs in assists (16) and points (17) while also leading the team in plus minus rating (+17) - this was especially remarkable because he spent most of the season playing his even strength minutes with John Carlson, who had the worst plus minus on the team. Alzner also played the toughest minutes of any Capital at even strength, and the only two defensemen to allow fewer goals against per 60 minutes of 5v5 ice time while playing tougher competition were Ryan McDonagh and Nicklas Lidstrom (per JP). Because Alzner played such incredibly hard minutes, his corsi was the worst on the team among defensemen. Nevertheless, Alzner was a rock all year with very few exceptions as he continued to establish himself as one of the NHL's top shutdown defensemen. Grade: A
Role Play: Coming off his breakout first full NHL season, Alzner did not regress, unlike his partner John Carlson, in fact getting better in most respects. I wrote in this space in September that the Capitals were going to lean in Alzner in all situations, and they did, particularly with a man down, as he led all DC players in shorthanded ice time and averaged over 20 minutes a night. It is worth noting, however, that all of Alzner's shorthanded ice time came on the 21st ranked penalty kill in the league, which perhaps indicates too much ice for Karl in that regard. Nevertheless, Alzner had established himself as a minutes-eating, responsible, steady defensive defenseman, and he was that this year, to a T. He did exactly what he was supposed to and he did it well. Grade: A
Playoffs: Playing in all 14 postseason games, Alzner only had two assists and was a minus-one, but the story for Alzner continued to be the great defensive work he did in very hard minutes. The British Columbia native played the hardest minutes of any defenseman that played in more than four games and only had the third worst corsi rating among Capitals defensemen, a relative improvement over the regular season. In addition, Alzner's excellent play on the penalty kill helped the DC shorthanded unit improve in the early stages of the playoffs. Eventually, it fell back to earth because of some goals allowed that Alzner was on the ice for, as perhaps the wear of playing so many minutes deep in the postseason got to him. He looked a little winded late in the Rangers series, too. Grade: B
Future Potential: 24 by the time next season starts, Alzner will probably continue to get better as he gets older and enters his prime as an elite shutdown NHL defenseman. There's really not much more you can say about him other than the fact that he plays very hard minutes, he plays them well, and he plays a lot of them. The Caps are lucky to have him, and he is probably their best defenseman at this moment. Alzner has one more year on his contract at a cap hit of $1.285 million before reaching restricted free agency - pending the RFA rules stay the same in the next collective bargaining agreement. Grade: A
The next evaluation will feature center Nicklas Backstrom.
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