Leaders of the comeback, Caps are finding adversity to fight through

Chris Lingebach
January 10, 2020 - 4:31 pm
Leaders of the comeback, Caps are finding adversity to fight through

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

A team with a no-quit attitude, the Capitals – with comeback wins over the Sharks and Senators this week – now lead the league in the category with 15 comeback victories on the season.

The Caps orchestrated one of the greatest comebacks in franchise history in the former, scoring two goals in under a minute to force overtime at the end of regulation against San Jose, and after trailing Ottawa 1-0 after the first period, blew the Sens out of the water by scoring six unanswered goals over the next two periods.

"I think it's really important for a team to do that," John Carlson said during his weekly 106.7 The Fan appearance, presented by The Purple Heart.

"Especially as the season goes along, the games get tougher, competition gets tougher and it's always nice to draw from past experiences," he said. "I would like to see us play a little bit better throughout the games and not put ourselves in that position. But certainly down the stretch and in the playoffs, those are big moments to think about, to try to replicate and have some confidence doing it."

Back in November, Capitals GM Brian MacLellan issued a challenge of sorts to his defense, publicly criticizing them for their "inconsistencies" while hoping for the lows to not be as low.

Carlson accepted the challenge, using it to reignite "that fire inside." 

Nearly a month and a half later, the defense has stabilized and Carlson remains on a torrid offensive pace.

While appearing on Toronto's Sportsnet 590 The Fan – which happens to be simulcast throughout the U.S. on NHL Network – MacLellan heaped plenty of public praise on Carlson when presented with the opportunity.

"John Carlson's season statistically is an absolute scorched-earth campaign towards the Norris Trophy right now," he host said. "It's impossible to not take notice of what he's done. Has this season been for you guys there in Washington like, 'How are people just noticing this guy has this ability?' Or has this season looked that much better than how he's been in the past?"

"I don't think the jump has been as big as people have made it out to be," MacLellan replied. "I think in my mind, from what I've seen, is Carlson, he's gotten a little bit better every year. I mean, he seems to have taken it to a new level the last four or five years, and this year is obviously his best year so far. You know, last year I thought he had a great season."

"I mean he has the offensive abilities," MacLellan continued. "I mean he reads the play really well, knows when to jump in the play, has a good shot, reads the ice really well. He's always had those attributes. This year things are falling into place more. We made some adjustments systems-wise where I think he gets a few more looks offensively. We play in the offensive zone a little bit more than we have in the past and I think it's benefited him.

"I think he's taken it to a new level on the power play, too. So in my mind, it's been a steady improvement. Everything's come together for him here this year and hopefully he can finish out the year the way he started it here."

Asked when someone who can be critical takes the time to lay compliments when warranted, if those compliments mean more, Carlson responded, "Yeah, I think so. Obviously it's his thoughts on the way a team is structured and built and all that sort of thing. There is a certain idea behind everything. It is nice to get praise from Mac and kind of a good sentiment for the team to make this push towards the end of the season here."

Carlson, for the record, is turning heads from coast to coast over his season. With 54 points (13 goals, 41 assists) through 45 games, Carlson leads all NHL defenseman in points and assists, with leads of eight points and nine assists in those respective categories over the next closest defensemen. Across the entire league, Carlson ranks 10th in points and fifth in assists.

Alex Ovechkin, who first wore the 'C' on his sweater on Jan. 5, 2010, celebrated the 10th anniversary of his captaincy with the Capitals this past Sunday. Carlson was asked to reflect on Ovi's decade of leadership, and how he's maybe evolved as a captain in that time.

"I think he's always been a good leader," Carlson said. "His reputation is different now than it was, say, five, six years ago, which is probably the biggest difference, I would say, just public opinion on him."

"I think he's learned and he's constantly tried to get better and be a better leader," he continued. "I don't really see anything on the ice that's different. He's been scoring goals at a historic rate his entire career and what he brings, in terms of energy and physicality, is second to no one, especially in terms of that side of the game, I would say.

"It's been fun to be a part of and I think for me, the only thing is just what people think about him after winning is a lot different than before. But as a player that's been there, he's always been that guy."

Carlson begins at the 18:50 mark below.