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Carlson joins elite company, Backstrom passes D. Sedin, Caps fourth line helps stifle Flames, more

by Mike Vogel @VogsCaps /

Going Down In History - Throughout one of the most torrid starts for any defenseman in NHL history, Caps blueliner John Carlson has stayed level, and has been humble about his accomplishments, attributing them to bounces, good fortune and skilled teammates. On Tuesday night in Calgary, Carlson notched his seventh multi-point game of the season, scoring a pair of goals in the Caps' 5-3 win over the Flames.

On Tuesday night, Carlson may have had a point. His first goal - the first goal of the game - was a soft one that went through a Calgary defender as well as Flames netminder Cam Talbot, and his second was an empty-netter with 1:45 left. But they don't ask how, they ask how many. And right now, Carlson has more points (20) than any player in the league, defenseman or not.

"I think a lot of times, but especially tonight," says Carlson, "I was pretty lucky. That's all there was to it, really."

"We've been talking a lot about John," says Caps coach Todd Reirden, "And it's well deserved. He plays the toughest minutes, plays the most minutes, and it's good to see him get a few bounces go his way. I think he has talked about it quite a bit. He has played great hockey, obviously. You don't get 20 points in a month, and so few people in hockey history have done that. But you need some bounces as well, and tonight he got a few.

"But I was more impressed with some of the things he did to shut down some of their top guys. It's a challenge on the road, and tough buildings, and he has had an outstanding start to the year."

Video: Todd Reirden Postgame | October 22

Carlson extended his point streak to eight straight games (five goals, 17 assists), and he has registered a point in 10 of Washington's 11 games this season. Among all blueliners in league history, he required the second fewest games (11) to reach 20 points. Only Pittsburgh's Paul Coffey (10 games in 1988-89) did so in fewer games.

Carlson also becomes one of only three defensemen in NHL history to lead the league in scoring outright, 20 days into the season. He joins Baldy Northcott (a native of Calgary, by the way), who did so in 1932-33 with the Montreal Maroons, and Boston's Bobby Orr, who turned the trick twice, in 1969-70 and 1974-75.

How Swede It Is - Caps center Nicklas Backstrom supplied a typically sublime helper on a critical Alex Ovechkin goal late in the second period of Tuesday's game. The goal came 10 seconds after Calgary scored to tie the game at 2-2, erasing what had been a 2-0 Washington lead at one point.

For Backstrom, the assist was the 649th of his NHL career, putting him one ahead of Daniel Sedin for fifth place all-time among Swedish-born NHL players. Backstrom reached 649 faster than any of his four countrymen still ahead of him on that list: Nicklas Lidstrom, Mats Sundin, Daniel Alfredsson and Henrik Sedin.

Video: Postgame Locker Room | October 22

Tough Job - Like many teams in the league, the Caps have had their share of struggles against Calgary's top line over the years. Sean Monahan entered Tuesday's game with seven goals and 11 points in a dozen career games against the Caps, and linemate Johnny Gaudreau came in with 10 points in as many games against Washington.

Washington neutralized those two and linemate Elias Lindholm, who scored the first Calgary goal on a Flames power play. Flames coach Bill Peters put that trio out frequently against Washington's fourth line of Brendan Leipsic, Nic Dowd and Chandler Stephenson, and it was a matchup that Reirden was fine with as well. He never issued orders to his troops to come off as soon as safely possible after a face-off, or anything of that nature.

"I definitely mentioned it and talked to them before they went on for those shifts," says Reirden. "You've got to be able to trust your players. Until they do something that forces you not to trust them, then you've got to keep going with them. That helps build you locker room, helps build your culture - that as a coach, you trust your players - and they were able to do a good job. And obviously they force a turnover and get a goal with Stephenson."

Indeed, Stephenson forced a turnover behind the Calgary net early in the second period, taking the puck from Talbot. He then tried a centering feed, and it clanked off the skate of Calgary defender Rasmus Andersson and into the net, giving the Caps a 2-0 lead at that point.

Stephenson has had a number of good scoring chances in the early going, so getting a gift goal helped make up for a robbery or a goalpost earlier in the campaign.

Video: Carlson scores twice to pace Capitals' 5-3 road win

"It's nice to get the monkey off my back," says Stephenson, of his first goal of calendar 2019. "It's not exactly how I pictured it, but I'll take it for sure."

Prior to Tuesday, Stephenson's last goal came on Dec. 31, 2018 against Nashville. Fourth-line goals always tend to give a team a lift, but keeping the opposition's top line in check is perhaps even more gratifying, in the long run.

"It feels good obviously, to have that confidence from the coaching staff to put you out there," says Stephenson. "If you get the job done, you will have that trust from them, and if you don't, then you're going to lose that trust. You've just got to make sure you're doing your job, limiting time and space."

Road Killers - Tuesday's win in Calgary was Washington's fifth win in six road games this season (5-1-0). It's the first time in franchise history the Caps have won five of their first six away from the District.

Streaking - Carlson isn't the only Capital with hot hands at the moment. Ovechkin has an eight-game point streak (six goals, five assists) and T.J. Oshie has a point in five straight games (four goals, two assists).

By The Numbers - Carlson led the Caps with 23:11 in ice time … Ovechkin led the Caps with five shots on net and nine shot attempts … Garnet Hathaway and Radko Gudas each had three hits to lead Washington … Carlson, Gudas and Lars Eller each blocked two shots to pace the Caps … Tom Wilson scored the game-winning goal for the second time in as many games, and he has matched his single-season career best in GWGs, established last season.

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