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Carlson’s five goals put him in a tie for fourth among defensemen in the league. He’s scored all five in the past eight games and added two assists. Washington is 7-2 in its past nine. Carlson has been on the ice for at least 24 minutes in seven of those games. He isn’t shirking his defensive duties. In Sunday’s victory over St. Louis, he was credited with four blocked shots.

Carlson only had two assists in the first 13 games.

“I think I’ve been playing well all year,” he said. “In the first 10 games, I was getting a little bit of bad luck and also had a couple of chances I didn’t cash in on that really would have changed those games for myself.

“But as time has been going on, I feel I’ve been better. I’ve made a lot more really good plays and less bad plays. I guess that’s what you’re looking for throughout the season and I’ve got to keep going.”

He’s not shy about admitting the Olympics would mean a lot to him. Carlson was 10 years away from being born the last time the U.S. won the gold medal, in 1980 at Lake Placid. But he knows the details of the Olympics well and has followed the Games as his career has progressed.

“I want to be there,” he said. “That’s why I play hockey. I want to be the best. I think I’ve done a good job in my career as an NHL player and it would be nice to join that, too.”

Facing the Olympic coach on Wednesday won’t add any pressure. Fortunately, Carlson said, there’s plenty of that playing the Penguins anyway. Pittsburgh is regarded as one of the league’s best teams and was a point behind the Caps in the Metropolitian Division going into its home game Monday against Anaheim.

“We have our hands full anyway besides just looking at that,” Carlson said. “It’s a huge game for us always and it is never easy playing against those guys.”