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Capitals' Defensemen Emerging As Scoring Threats

November 6, 2013

Teams playing the Washington Capitals struggle to contain an offense led by Alex Ovechkin. But now they have another concern -- Capitals defensemen are beginning to find the back of the net.

Washington blueliners have scored three goals during the past two games, after netting one during the first 13 games of the season. John Carlson has scored in back-to-back games, and Alexander Urbom blasted home a slap shot during a 6-2 victory against the New York Islanders Nov. 5.

"Our D erred on the side of caution to begin the year," Carlson said. "Now, the more comfortable we get in the system, the better we feel, the more offense you'll see." 

The Capitals may need the added threat. Washington will host the Minnesota Wild Nov. 7, before back-to-back road games Nov. 9 and 10 against Phoenix and Colorado. Minnesota had the NHL's fourth-best goals-against average (2.06) and Colorado's was the best (1.46) through Nov. 5.

Head coach Adam Oates said he didn't measure his defensemen's offensive contributions by their number of goals.

"Offense from the D for me is still their decisions with the puck, not so much actually putting it in the net," Oates said after practice Nov. 6. "That's a bonus."

Urbom, claimed off waivers Oct. 3, scored as part of a five-goal second period Nov. 5. He collected a Tom Wilson pass in the slot and buried a slap shot.

Oates called it a bomb of a goal and said it's just as important for Urbom and other defensemen to put the puck in the right spots to allow forechecking. 

"That's offense for us from our D," Oates said.

A Massachusetts native, Carlson tied the game, 1-1, with his unassisted goal early during the second period. He used his right skate to block a clearing pass, moved toward the net and snapped a shot past the right blocker of New York goalie Evgeni Nabokov.

"There's a fine line between chances and choices," said Carlson, a 2008 first-round draft pick who had six goals and 16 assists last season. "It's reads. That's what the game's about. You've got to make sure you have some sort of support to back you up if you do try to make a play there."

Meanwhile, Mike Green is still looking for his first goal of the season.

"I've had a lot of opportunities," Green said after practice Nov. 6. "They just haven't been going in. I know how this goes. I've played in the league for nine years. They come in bunches.

Sometimes you go through a bit of a drought. As long as we're winning hockey games, that's all that matters. I'll come out of it. Just keep shooting."

Oates said he's not concerned about Green, who scored seven of his 12 goals last season in April.

"He gets the puck 50-60 times a game," Oates said. "We want good touches. Am I worried about it? No. He's going to end up with his normal amount. It goes in cycles. It's tough for defensemen. We don't ask them to gamble to get goals."

When defensemen are threats to score, it causes confusion for opponents, Green said.

"Anytime you have a defenseman that likes to jump up or create plays or shoot the puck, that's one more offensive guy you've got to keep your eye on, rather than just the three guys up front," Green said.

Urbom said that when defensemen played well offensively, opponents had to respect all the players on the ice, which made it easier for the forwards to play as well.

Last season, Caps defensemen accounted for 18.5 percent of the team's 146 goals.

Erik Karlsson of Ottawa leads NHL defensemen with six goals through 15 games. He also has 11 assists.

Through 16 games, Wild defensemen scored five of their team's 43 goals, while Phoenix defensemen have 12 of their team's 51 goals.