- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 26, 2018

You don’t need to present a lengthy argument for Alex Ovechkin to be named an NHL All-Star for the eighth time. Ovechkin has scored a league-leading 29 goals in the Capitals’ first 35 games, and shows no signs of slowing down despite turning 33 and finally having a Stanley Cup on his resume.

But with about two weeks remaining until the rosters are announced for the 2019 All-Star Game in San Jose, California, and with Washington still leading the Metropolitan Division, it’s worth noting that No. 8 is not the only Capital having a great year.

⦁ John Carlson, defenseman: He’s now one of the highest-paid blue liners in the league, but Carlson has not yet appeared in the All-Star Game. This could be the year that changes. After leading all defensemen last season with 68 points, he has 35 points in 34 games played this year. No defenseman in the Metro has tallied more points than Carlson, and he’s not slowing down despite averaging a tiring 25:27 of ice time per game. Each division only gets three blue liners per roster, but Carlson ought to be atop that list.

⦁ Braden Holtby, goaltender: Should he make the team, it would be Holtby’s fourth straight All-Star appearance. His numbers (14-8-2, .914 save percentage, 2.79 GAA) aren’t the most stellar of his career, but his competition in the Metro is weak. Many of the most talented goalies are concentrated in the Atlantic Division. Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray has been hurt. The biggest-name opponents challenging Holtby are Henrik Lundqvist and Sergei Bobrovsky, who have posted similar stat lines this year.

⦁ Nicklas Backstrom, center: Backstrom leads Washington in assists (31), is just three behind Ovechkin for second-most points (41) and has risen back to the Capitals’ top line after ceding that spot to Evgeny Kuznetsov for a while. Backstrom has only made one All-Star Game, in 2016. With John Tavares no longer on the Islanders and playing in another division, Backstrom could have an easier path to San Jose. Imagine an All-Star line with Ovechkin, Backstrom and, say, Claude Giroux skating together.

⦁ Todd Reirden, coach: How about a little love for the rookie coach? Reirden stepped up after Barry Trotz’s resignation and has coached the Capitals to one of the best records in the league so far. The coaches whose teams have the highest points percentage in each division at the halfway mark of the season are selected to coach the All-Star squads, so Reirden is in line for that duty right now. (Trotz coached the Metro team last year and in 2016.) If the Capitals fall out of first place, the likeliest team to overtake them would be the Columbus Blue Jackets, coached by John Tortorella.

The Capitals are back in action on home ice Thursday night, hosting division rival Carolina at Capital One Arena.

• Adam Zielonka can be reached at azielonka@washingtontimes.com.

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