Capitals' Karl Alzner, John Carlson struggling early

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Sports,NHL,Capitals,Brian McNally

Defensemen on the ice for majority of goals so far

There is plenty wrong with the Capitals after a disastrous first week of the season. Pointing only to the play of defensemen Karl Alzner and John Carlson would not be fair.

But there also is no question that the team's top pairing for the past two seasons is off to a slow start. How bad had things become? Alzner admitted after Thursday's loss to the Montreal Canadiens that he suggested to assistant coach Calle Johansson the duo be split up.

That happened in the third period against the Canadiens and for the entire game Friday against the New Jersey Devils. It didn't seem to help all that much as goalie Michal Neuvirth (32 saves) time and again was left to bail out his teammates in an eventual 3-2 overtime loss that dropped Washington to 0-3-1. Carlson was on the ice for all three Devils goals -- though one was a 5-on-3 penalty kill. That means 12 of the 17 goals the Caps have allowed have come with Carlson on the ice. Alzner was also on for that 5-on-3 against Friday and has been on the ice for nine goals through four games.

"It's not just one [thing]. It's making plays at the right time. It's dumping the puck even the right way," Alzner said. "It's not having your stick in the right lane. It's a bunch of things that's not going right for us. It's a stretch. Everybody goes through it. It's unfortunate that it's the beginning of the season for a lot of us. It would be nice if we could feel good about a game pretty soon here."

Much of their struggles have come on the penalty kill. Three times Carlson and Alzner have been stuck on the ice trying to kill 5-on-3s thanks to multiple bad penalties taken by their teammates. Four other goals with Carlson playing have been 5-on-4s. That has happened to Alzner three times. On Friday, Carlson was playing with John Erskine, while Alzner was with Mike Green. The pairings could change again for Sunday's home game against the Buffalo Sabres.

"Sometimes with John maybe the game comes a little, almost too easy," Johansson said. "He is such a talented guy, so hockey to him is so natural and so easy. I think maybe focus for the whole game. Sometimes when things come easy to you, you take it for granted, and that's when you're not on top maybe all the time."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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