Throughout the season NHL.com will be doing a weekly series called "Five Questions With …," a Q&A with some of the key figures in the game aimed at gaining insight into their lives and careers.
This edition features Washington Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner:
Washington Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner was the fifth pick in the 2007 NHL Draft, but because of the role he plays as a defense-first guy he probably doesn’t receive the attention he deserves.
Alzner is in his third full season with the Capitals after two years of shuttling back and forth between Washington and Hershey in the American Hockey League, and in each of those three seasons he has been the top defensive defenseman on the team’s roster.
When he and fellow young defenseman John Carlson broke into the League together, they quickly became the go-to pairing against the other team’s top line while Bruce Boudreau was the coach. This season Carlson and Alzner, or “Carlzner” as they were affectionately dubbed by fans in Washington, have been split up but both have played better of late. Not coincidently, the Capitals’ play has improved from a wretched 2-10-1 start, as well.
Alzner sat down with NHL.com to answer some questions about the team’s improvement, playing for different coaches in a short span, and facing the Philadelphia Flyers in NBCSN's Wednesday Night Rivalry presented by Coors Light (7 p.m. ET).
What are some of the differences in playing for Adam Oates as compared to some of the other coaches you have had?
"He’s very technical. I’ve played for some technical guys, but he is very, very technical -- all the way from the lie of your blade to a foot difference in positioning on the ice. It helps when you have those very strict guidelines to follow. It makes it easy for a guy like me, because I’m always about what they tell me and trying to be exactly like that. It is just the attention to detail he brings to us is insane. I’ve never had anything like that, I guess, cut and dry or laid out for us. Everything has been, ‘Just go out and make a hockey play, but this is what we like.’ It is nice, because it doesn’t leave with any doubt. It is great."
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What is it like to play for three coaches in a year?
"I never really expected anything like that to ever happen. You don’t love that, because it means usually that something is going wrong and we’re not playing good enough. That’s never a good feeling for a player. It has been cool from the standpoint of it has been three different systems and three different personalities. You get to learn how coaches tick, and you get to learn from a lot of great hockey minds. There has been some good, but it has also been some bad. I think we’ve got a really good one right now."
What has changed in the past few games that has seemed to help the team turn things around?
"I think that we’re more focused on little details now. I think we go out and execute more now instead of thinking about executing, which is obviously very important. Also, the special teams are getting a lot better."
When you first established yourself in the League, it was always you and John Carlson together. When you were apart, your play slipped. This season, you have remained apart, but your play has improved. Why?
"I don’t know. I think we’re both more familiar with the other guys. We weren’t playing very good at the beginning of the season and we needed a change and it just so happened that we started playing good as we got separated. Maybe it was in our head when we were a little younger. The first couple of years maybe we needed to play together to be more comfortable, but now we’re just extremely comfortable on the ice and it doesn’t matter who we play with on the ice.
"I’m very fortunate that I get put with [Mike Green], who is a world-class d-man. It makes things easy for me. They are similar players -- [Green] and [Carlson]. It was an easy transition for my game. It is better, better for the team, if we can play with other guys and you have that one designated pair as the shutdown pair. He and I can play with [John] Erskine or Green or whoever the coaches put out there. It spreads things out pretty good."
What are some of your memories of playing in these rivalry games against the Philadelphia Flyers?
"With us being being close that is one big thing -- you have our fans going up there and their fans coming here. Playing in their building is ... it is one of those places where you don’t tell your family to come because you are worried about what might happen to them in the stands. That alone can get you more antsy, a little more into the game. There’s been so many times where guys are yelling at fans, fans yelling at the guys as we are walking through the tunnel. Just little things like that.
"When you think of hostile environments, you think about walking through that tunnel in Philadelphia. I probably have more memories from the fans than the games themselves, but it is just fun, fun to play a hard team like that."