When a Washington Capitals player leads the NHL in points, it’s reasonable to assume that player is Alex Ovechkin, who once had 112 points in a season, or even Nicklas Backstrom, who plays on the top forward line and is involved in assisting plenty of goals.
But on Monday morning, John Carlson was the man atop the league leaderboard. Yes, that John Carlson. The defenseman.
Carlson extended his point streak to seven games with an assist in Washington’s 5-3 win over Chicago on Sunday night, bringing his season total to 18 points (three goals, 15 assists) in 10 games.
With an assist on an Ovechkin goal Sunday, Carlson broke a tie at 17 points with Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid — one of the NHL’s top young stars — for sole possession of the league lead.
His mark of 15 assists also leads the league, three ahead of second-place McDavid.
A player like Carlson being a points leader is virtually unheard of. Only two other defensemen in league history have tallied 18 or more points in the first 10 games of a season — and they’re Hall of Famers Bobby Orr and Paul Coffey. It hasn’t happened since 1988.
For several games now, Carlson has been mentioned alongside names like Orr and Coffey. For instance, he had three three-point performances over his first nine games, matching Orr’s career mark and coming one shy of Coffey and Paul Reinhart. One of those was a three-assist night in the Capitals’ win over the Rangers on Friday.
“For a defenseman, I think there’s so much luck involved,” Carlson said before Friday’s game. “I think I’m making good plays, don’t get me wrong. I’m not just dumping the puck in, although I did have one or two of those as well. Chances happen, chances get created and sometimes they go in and sometimes they don’t. They seem to be going in right now which is nice.
“I’ll just keep working it the same way. It’s about the process more than what happens on the other side of it.”
Part of Carlson’s offensive contribution comes from his role running the point for the Capitals’ star-studded power play unit. One of his goals and five of his assists this year have come on the power play.
Carlson has worked on that unit with Ovechkin, Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie for a few seasons now, and it’s resulted in smart plays and puck movement.
“I think more times than not, without even looking we have a pretty good understanding of where people are,” Oshie said. “It’s something that comes with chemistry and playing with each other for a long time.”
Coach Todd Reirden said Carlson’s execution with the puck is the best he’s seen from the 29-year-old.
“Like I’ve alluded to in the past, the first 20 games are a little scrambly, and the game has slowed down for (Carlson),” Reirden said. “He’s seeing some passes and seeing some stuff on the ice right now that’s fun to watch, and (it’s) fun to be a forward on our team, going to the right areas and getting rewarded for it.”
The 6-2-2 Capitals visit the Calgary Flames Tuesday, followed by a game with McDavid’s Oilers Thursday.