A Decade Since Sochi, John Carlson Is Still Playing Big Minutes For The Capitals At Age 34

Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson celebrates after scoring in the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets, Sunday, March 24, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson celebrates after scoring in the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets, Sunday, March 24, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
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John Carlson has played more hockey than anyone in the NHL this season not named Drew Doughty, and that volume has not gone unnoticed around the league.

"He's playing a lot of minutes," Detroit winger Patrick Kane said. “As time goes on, you don’t get any younger, but he seems to be keeping his endurance and stamina up and obviously capability for the team, as well.”

A decade since playing with Kane for the U.S. at the Sochi Olympics, Carlson recently passed the 1,000-games milestone and is still shouldering a heavy workload at age 34. While Washington's longtime No. 1 defenseman isn't quite sure how he has been able to log so many minutes for so long — “I don't know, I think you just do it” — more than a half-dozen of his teammates from the 2014 Games believe Carlson's durability and longevity are a credit to his smarts and the ability to do everything on the ice, from scoring and setting up goals to preventing them by opponents while not letting all the shifts take a toll.

“His brain is just elite at how he plays the game offensively, defensively, so I think he’s able to be super efficient,” said winger James van Riemsdyk, now with Boston. “His physical tools kind of speak for themselves, but you don’t play that long and that high of a level, especially at this age, unless you have a really good hockey sense."

Carlson is averaging nearly 26 minutes of ice time a game for the Capitals, who lean on him in all situations as they're trying to return to the playoffs. Veteran Max Pacioretty, who got to know Carlson in Sochi and is teammates with him again, compared him to Hall of Famer and seven-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom.

“He doesn’t expend useless energy," Pacioretty said. "He knows when to use it, kind of when to be a little bit more reserved, and I think that’s a skill that so few people have.”

Retired defenseman Brooks Orpik knows all about needing to pace oneself throughout a long season, as Carlson has over his 15 years in the NHL, skating more than 26,600 shifts comprising 23,700 minutes of ice time. And Orpik thinks his 2018 Stanley Cup-winning teammate has gotten better about picking his spots.

“He has the ability to be physical when he has to be; he probably is a little bit more in the playoffs than he is regular season,” Orpik said. “It's impossible to play that way with the minutes he’s playing, so I think he’s gotten smarter as he’s gotten older, too, which is kind of learning when to kind of go at it a little bit harder and then when to maybe conserve his energy."

While Carlson is known more for his offense — 670 points in 1,005 regular-season games — his defensive acumen is often underappreciated, given how many tough matchups the Natick, Massachusetts, native by way of New Jersey has been tasked with throughout his career. Ryan Callahan felt more than a few shoves in front of the net from Carlson over the years, especially in Capitals-New York Rangers playoff series.

“He definitely had some snarl to his game,” said Callahan, now an ESPN analyst. “As a teammate, when you see an offensive guy, a defenseman like that who puts up those points but also has that little bit of a bite to his game, it drags the rest of the guys to have that compete and have that bite.”

With that bite, Callahan pointed out, also comes Carlson being a reliable player whose consistency makes him predictable and easy to work with. Watching some highlights recently, Bruins defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk notices his former teammate “making these typical big-time John Carlson plays” to keep the Caps in the playoff race.

“There's no moment too big for him,” Shattenkirk said. “Nothing seems to faze him. That usually comes with experience, but he seemed to have that from the start.”

T.J. Oshie, who has played with him since 2015 after sharing the Sochi Olympic experience, saw that from afar when he was with St. Louis in previous years and thought Carlson had the ability to be a “mainstay” in Washington. He has been, skating nearly 30 minutes — including the final 4:38 — in a crucial victory at Detroit on Tuesday.

"He doesn’t seem like he’s slowing down all that much," Orpik said, “even at this age.”


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