- The Washington Times - Monday, July 20, 2020

The Washington Capitals’ “Johnny for Norris” campaign has moved another step closer to its goal.

John Carlson was named a finalist Monday for the James Norris Memorial Trophy, honoring the NHL’s best defenseman.

Joining Carlson as finalists were the Nashville Predators’ Roman Josi and the Tampa Bay Lightning’s Victor Hedman. It’s Carlson’s first time as a top-three finalist, after finishing fourth in voting last year and fifth in 2017-18.

“It’s huge,” Carlson said. “I think you look at how long an NHL season is, and this one (is) a little bit shorter, but it’s a long way to go and a lot of games that are very meaningful … It’s an honor for me personally, but it’s also a cool thing for everyone within your team and organization that kind of rallied behind you.”

Carlson and Josi are considered the front-runners for the award. The NHL won’t reveal award winners until September, during the conference finals.

Carlson led all NHL defensemen in assists (60) and total points (75). His 1.09 point-per-game average was the highest of any blueliner to play at least 50 games since 1993-94, putting Carlson on pace to finish with 89 points had the season not been suspended.

He also averaged 1:30 per game of shorthanded ice time, steering the Capitals’ penalty kill to the sixth-best success rate in the NHL.

Center Nic Dowd said his teammate was more than a scoring defenseman.

“You don’t see him playing a lot of defense because he makes such smart decisions that he’s never in the D-zone,” Dowd said. “I think that’s overlooked a little bit, overshadowed by his offensive ability. I think that’s what separates him from the other two candidates, in my opinion.”

Josi, like Carlson, is seeking his first Norris and made the top three in voting for the first time in his career. Hedman, who won the 2018 Norris, is a finalist for the fourth consecutive season.

The only Washington player to win the Norris was Rod Langway, who earned it back-to-back years in 1982-83 and 1983-84. The Capitals’ last Norris finalist came in 2010, when Mike Green was the runner-up.

Schedule change

The Capitals’ final game of the seeding round robin, against the Boston Bruins, was changed from Aug. 8 to Aug. 9. The other two Eastern Conference teams playing the round robin, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers, had their game switched from Aug. 9 to Aug. 8.

The NHL did not give a reason, and the start times for those games is still to be announced.

The 12 Eastern Conference teams participating in the league’s restart will travel to Toronto on July 26, while the 12 Western teams will head to Edmonton. The Capitals will play the Bruins, Lightning and Flyers once apiece to determine where they’ll be seeded at the start of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Samsonov still out, but Alexeyev practices

Ilya Samsonov still hasn’t been able to start practicing with his teammates at MedStar Capitals Iceplex. The organization’s No. 2 goaltender returned to the Washington region but has yet to be cleared to practice.

Due to the NHL’s current policy on healthy privacy, coach Todd Reirden has been mum about Samsonov’s absence. But out of 2,618 COVID-19 tests given to more than 800 players between July 13 and 17, the NHL only had two tests come back positive.

However, another Russian returned Monday. Defenseman Alex Alexeyev, the Capitals’ first-round draft pick in 2018, skated with the rest of the training camp roster for the first time this month after sitting out with Samsonov during the first week.

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

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