As he rounded the boards following his second-period goal Saturday against the Florida Panthers, Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson's signature fist-pump celebration had a little more oomph behind it than normal, and understandably so.
It was Carlson's first goal of the season, but more surprising than that was the fact that it was only Washington's second goal scored by a defenseman this season, and the first in nearly a month. (Connor Carrick, currently with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League, scored the other, Oct. 3 against the Calgary Flames.)
Only the Anaheim Ducks have received less goal-scoring production from their back end than the Capitals, which is even more inexplicable considering they feature two of the league's more offensively inclined defensemen in Carlson and Mike Green.
In the case of Green, who has led all NHL defensemen in goals in three of the last five seasons, his 14-game goalless drought to start the season is the longest of his career.
"We've been trying and just pucks haven't been getting through, or else we've been getting not a lot of luck there," Green said of himself and Carlson. "It's never easy to get goals. You look at Carly's goal; he had to jump up into the rush and get a Grade A opportunity to score. It's definitely not easy.
"Sometimes you start off slow and you end up in good shape. Sometimes, you start out quick and you end up with not as many as you want. It's a matter of pucks finding their way through. Last game, I hit a post, so it could have hit post and in, but it didn't, so sometimes that's the difference."
As Green alluded to, it has not been for lack of trying.
Green and Carlson rank second and third on the team in shots on goal, respectively, and only six players league-wide have had more shots blocked than Green's 31.
"Pucks aren't finding their way through," said defenseman Karl Alzner, who has had the unique vantage point of playing with both Green and Carlson this season. "Carly's had a lot of great opportunities. He knows he should probably have four goals at this point with the chances he's had. Sometimes, they're in the right spot and [the] goalie finds a way to make the save.
"Green has had some shots that have been tipped, but if they weren't tipped, maybe they would have went in on their own. What makes Greenie so good is he's able to find the lanes, not only through the first blocker, but through the second and third. Not very many guys can do it, so teams are just doing a good job knocking pucks down, ringing a few off the post and stuff. He'll be fine."
As Washington's premier puck-movers playing a system that needs defensemen to make quick, smart plays in order to work properly, Green and Carlson are relied upon heavily by Coach Adam Oates to "drive the bus," as he puts it.
Because of that, he needs "their touches to be successful," and believes that scoring opportunities will come as a byproduct of that success.
"I know it's important for guys to get their goals. I'm sure it's a huge relief for Carly, and Greenie needs to get one just to relax, but other than that, he's getting plenty of chances."
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