ARLINGTON, Va. -- There were flashes of the dreaded "sophomore slump" for Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson this season, but he's picked the right time to be playing some of his best hockey.
Carlson had a fantastic rookie campaign in 2010-11, his first full season in the NHL, teaming up with fellow young defenseman Karl Alzner to form the team's most trusted pairing, while also racking up seven goals and 37 points.
He finished this regular season with nine goals and 32 points, but his work in the defensive end eroded. Plus-minus isn't a tell-all stat, but Carlson's drop from plus-21 to minus-15 was jarring. Carlson did score in the season finale against Florida, but that ended one of two droughts of six weeks or more without a tally.
"I think towards the end of the season I started getting my legs back under me, felt a lot better about myself and my game," Carlson said. "I think it is just a progression thing. I was confident that I could do it and get back to where I needed to be and I think that I'm playing good now."
Carlson's play has been much improved this postseason. He has two goals and five points in the 13 games, but four of the points have come in the past seven.
He's also played more than 20 minutes in every postseason game but one, and more than 30 minutes twice. Paired every night with Alzner, they are again back to being Washington's shutdown pairing.
"He's been playing really well," Hunter said. "He's been physical and jumping up in the play and creating offense. But also they got a tough job of dealing with the top line every night. Him and [Alzner] are doing a great job."
Added Carlson: "I don't know. I think it seems like I'm getting some bounces, getting some breaks. It feels like I am seeing the rush a little bit more and trying to join the play if I can if it is not detrimental to my team."
Carlson did get a nice bounce in Game 6. His shot from the right point went off Nicklas Backstrom's skate and skipped toward the left post -- just where Jason Chimera was waiting for an easy tap-in goal.
He isn't the only young defenseman with elite potential to struggle at times during his second full NHL season. Montreal's P.K. Subban also struggled at times this season. So too did Los Angeles' Drew Doughty during his sophomore campaign.
Carlson does appear to have figured it out, and has moved on.
"It's over now, so it doesn't matter," he said.
Added Hunter: "I think every player goes through it; it's a long season. When it counts in the playoffs, he's been a horse for us."