Alzner, who ranks fourth on the club in average ice time at 20:01 during his 10 games, is slowly coming into his own and beginning to showcase the poise and confidence the Capitals brass saw in taking him with the fifth pick of the 2007 Entry Draft.
"(The amount of ice time) surprised me quite a bit actually," Alzner said. "I knew coming in, our blue line was thin and I knew there was an opportunity for me to play a lot, but at the same time, I never thought I'd get to play in the situations that I have."
Alzner admits he's been 50 percent satisfied with the way he's played.
"There were a few situations I was put in that I didn't know how to handle and it didn't work out so well, but I'll figure things out," Alzner said.
It's certainly been on-the-job training for Alzner as the Capitals defense has been decimated by injury in the first quarter of the season. Brian Pothier, Jeff Schultz, Mike Green, John Erskine, Tom Poti and Tyler Sloan have either been listed as day-to-day or out for long stretches, leaving coach Bruce Boudreau little option but to play his prized rookie defender.
Fortunately for Alzner, his defensive partner, Milan Jurcina, has been a tremendous assistance.
"I talk to (Jurcina) a lot and he always tells me to open my mouth on the ice because it makes it a lot easier out there," Alzner said. "He just makes himself available so I can move the puck quick. I also spoke a lot to Brian Pothier, who reinforces that I should continue to play a simple game. The guys always stress that it's not a problem to make the easy plays by just getting the puck out of the zone if there's no other option. It's nice to have those older guys there to help my confidence."
One thing's for sure, Alzner certainly works up a sweat in practice while up against a few of the NHL's premier forwards in Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom.
"It's nerve-racking, but at the same time it's really beneficial because I can get in some really good practice time," Alzner said. "Sometimes I actually ask a couple of them if I could do a few one-on-ones since the timing is obviously a little bit different in the NHL as compared to the American Hockey League."
At the time of his call-up, Alzner was tied for second in the AHL with a plus-15 rating in 20 games and was second among Hershey defensemen with 9 points (7 assists). While he still gets the butterflies before every game, Alzner knows nothing will ever equal the anxiety he felt in his NHL debut against the Atlanta Thrashers on Nov. 26.
"I didn't have a hard time getting to sleep the previous night since I was really tired, but on game day, I had nerves I never felt before," Alzner said. "I've played in a few games that were high-pressure situations, but this was something else. I was really shaky and I never thought I'd feel nauseous before a game, but I was really bad before that one and it didn't stop when I got on the ice either. I had that same feeling all three periods, so it was kind of stressful, but at the same time I'm glad I was a little jumpy because it really kept me on the ball."
Alzner registered one shot, one blocked shot, took 25 shifts and led all Caps defensemen with 21:06 of ice time in a 5-3 victory over the Thrashers.
He would score his first NHL goal five games later on Dec. 6 in a 2-1 decision over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The 20-year-old Alzner floated a shot past goalie Vesa Toskala, who was screened by Ovechkin on the play, at 1:41 of the second.
"You work so hard just to reach that point and then to finally make it and then play a game is an incredible feeling. It's a whole new level that you can't understand until you actually go through it, so I'm happy I've gotten that out of the way and now I just want to gain more confidence moving forward."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.