- The Washington Times - Monday, November 18, 2013

Let’s try a little exercise.

Give yourself two minutes to get lost in thought. Let your mind go. Think about whatever you want. Just do not, under any circumstances, think about elephants. Do not think about how they are big, or gray, or have cool trunks and tusks.

Do not think about elephants. At all.

OK, time’s up. Be honest — did you think about anything but elephants?

Welcome to John Carlson’s situation. Carlson, 23, has a significant job in the sports world. He’s a talented defenseman for the Washington Capitals and his play of late is one reason the Caps have surged up the Metropolitan Division standings.

Carlson has an elephant of his own. He’s one of 48 candidates for a spot on the United States Olympic team. Sometime around the first of the year, he’ll get a phone call. He’ll either be told see you in Sochi or thanks but no thanks.

But he can’t think about that.

“It’s a little tough,” Carlson said. “You want to worry about the team because that’s what we do for a living and certainly that’s what I’ve been trying to do and let the rest take care of itself.

“But I think anyone would be lying if they said they weren’t thinking about it a little bit.”

Carlson and the other candidates were in the area Aug. 26-27 for an orientation camp at Kettler IcePlex. That was the last time the group would be together before the Olympics, which leads to a lot of natural questions before those fateful phone calls are made with good news for the chosen 25.

Who is watching? When? What are they watching?

Is the Caps’ game Wednesday against visiting Pittsburgh more important because Penguins coach Dan Bylsma is the U.S. Olympic coach? Is the game Dec. 7 against Nashville more important because Preds general manager David Poile is also GM of the Olympic team?

Have decisions already been made?

Yeah, don’t think about any of that.

“I think it is human nature that it is on your mind,” Caps coach Adam Oates said. “I talked to Dan Bylsma in the summertime about John. He’s played really good hockey lately.”

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.”