John Carlson’s Washington Capitals teammates were not about to let his Bobby Orr-like month pass without ribbing him about it.
“Relentlessly,” Carlson said, laughing. “Relentlessly. We are an easygoing, fun team so it certainly gets flung around the room. But this has been pretty much every day. Every day, every time I see some people, they are on top of me.”
It’s what happens when a defenceman leads the NHL in scoring with 20 points in his first 11 games of the season. Earlier this week, Carlson joined hall of famers Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey as the only defencemen in NHL history to have 18 points in the first 10 games.
As much fun as the Capitals may be having, there is serious respect for how Carlson, 29, continues to elevate his game.
“In his whole career, he has gotten better every year,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We signed him to an eight-year deal (starting in 2018-19) and you might think there might be a letdown, but he took it to a new level last year.”
He posted 70 points and owned a +21 plus-minus last season, but that wasn’t enough to earn him a spot as a Norris finalist. He is considered a premium defenceman, but he hasn’t been lumped in the highest level group that includes Drew Doughty, Victor Hedman, Mark Giordano and Brent Burns among others.
“I thought last year he took a jump in his recognition,” MacLellan said. “In our minds, he performs at their level.”
If Carlson continues to be this dominant, he will be mentioned with the game’s top defenceman.
“I think I’m playing as well as I have in the past, if not a little better,” Carlson said. “But things are going my way right now. When I’m making a good play, the guys are scoring for me now.”
No defenceman has reached 100 points in 27 years, not since the New York Rangers’ Brian Leetch registered 102 in 1991-92.
“I get that (Carlson’s) point pace and shooting percentage (21.7 per cent) is probably not sustainable,” MacLellan said. “But he is playing at a very high level. He looks as good as he has ever looked to me.”
Wednesday’s game against Calgary marked the first time this season Carlson hasn’t logged 24 or more minutes. He played 23:11.
“I listened to his comments before the season started and he said he wanted to defend at a higher pace,” MacLellan said. “Give him credit for working on both sides of his game. I think the offensive game comes naturally to him. He has real good instincts: when to jump into the play, how to find guys with the puck, he has a good shot, good vision. Defensively, he’s a good defender, but I agree when he plays with pace defending he’s more effective. He’s a good penalty killer.”
But right now, all of the talk around Carlson is about how many points he is capable of getting. He’s on a 149-point pace.
The game has changed considerably since Leetch topped 100 points. Does Carlson think it will be done again by a defenceman? Burns led defencemen with 83 points last season.
“Who knows how the game will go in the next five or 10 years or what kind of changes that will be made,” Carlson said. “It could be restructured to be more offensive. I think it’s a possibility. But if you are going to get 100 points, you have to be healthy for 99 per cent of the season. The game is fast, tough and hard. And it’s tough to stay healthy. I think there are a lot of factors saying ‘no’. But there’s a lot of talent in this league, and if the scoring keeps rising, you never know.”
When Carlson had 18 points in 10 games, he matched what Orr did in 1969-70.
Has Carlson looked to see what Orr did in November that season?
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Carlson laughed. “Bobby Orr probably ended up with 140 points or something and that ain’t going to happen,” Carlson said.
Orr’s total was 120 points, and he won the scoring title, MVP and Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs. But Carlson’s point is the same.
The only reason why Carlson has not been saddled with the Bobby Orr nickname is that it was already in use. “Sometimes Dmitri Orlov is called Bobby Orlov,” Carlson said.