To mark the first quarter of the season, NHL.com is running its second installment of the Trophy Tracker series this week. Today, we look at the race for the Norris Trophy, the annual award given to the top defenseman in the NHL as selected in a Professional Hockey Writers Association poll.
John Carlson finished last season with an NHL career-high 70 points (13 goals, 57 assists), and the Washington Capitals defenseman has picked up where he left off this season.
Carlson was named the NHL's First Star for October because his numbers were historic. His 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists) in 14 games were the second-most in October by a defenseman in NHL history behind Al MacInnis of the Calgary Flames, who had 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists) in 13 games in October 1990.
"I work hard all the time but personally I don't think there's been anything too crazy or I changed things completely," Carlson said of his success. "Our team is just playing really well right now and scoring a lot of goals, which is awesome. The biggest thing for me is the more up-tempo style we've played."
Carlson leads NHL defensemen with 36 points (eight goals, 28 assists) in 24 games, 13 more than Dougie Hamilton of the Carolina Hurricanes and Cale Makar of the Colorado Avalanche (23 each). Carlson is also third among all NHL skaters in points.
So it should be no surprise that Carlson was chosen unanimously by a panel of 20 NHL.com writers to win the Norris Trophy after the first quarter of the season. Carlson received 100 points, including all 20 first-place votes, and was the only player to be selected on every ballot. Hamilton finished second with 52 points, and Roman Josi of the Nashville Predators (47 points) was third.
"That would be an awesome thing if it happened, but it's early on in the season, and I'm just trying to focus on what makes me a good hockey player and winning games at this point, and those things will take care of themselves," Carlson said.
Though Carlson may not be campaigning for himself, his teammates are. Forward Alex Ovechkin recently referred to him as "John Norris," and the Capitals have started the hashtag #Johnny4Norris.
Video: WSH@TOR: Carlson picks the corner on Andersen
"Everybody knew he's a skilled guy," Ovechkin said. "He's playing big minutes now like always and he's just feeling it, and it seems like everything he's tried to do, it works, and that's good for us."
Carlson, a Second Team NHL All-Star last season, is a big reason the Capitals (16-4-4) are atop the NHL standings. He has at least one point in 20 of 24 games, but coach Todd Reirden said it's more than just his offense that makes him special.
"Things have been going really well for John," he said. "... Things are working out numberswise, but more importantly is the stuff he's done behind the scenes. We lost a couple of veteran D this summer from our group (Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen) and he's really taken over back there ... I like the work he's done with our young guys, and leadership is another area he's grown in this year. It's fun to watch."
Carlson is also among the NHL leaders in time on ice per game (25:14, fifth), plus-minus (plus-15, second) and power-play points (12, fourth).
"You try to always work to get better and find new ways whether it's watching video or practicing and working on different things, but it's a tight game out there, and I just think that things are going my way right now," Carlson said.
Voting totals (points awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis): John Carlson, Capitals, 100 points (20 first-place votes); Dougie Hamilton, Hurricanes, 52 points; Roman Josi, Predators, 47 points; Alex Pietrangelo St. Louis Blues, 24 points; Cale Makar, Avalanche, 22 points; Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks, 10 points; Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay Lightning, 10 points; Shea Weber, Montreal Canadiens, 9 points; Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars, 8 points; Oscar Klefbom, Edmonton Oilers, 4 points; Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Arizona Coyotes, 3 points; Thomas Chabot, Ottawa Senators, 3 points; Ryan Ellis, Predators, 2 points; Erik Karlsson, Sharks, 2 points; Morgan Rielly, Toronto Maple Leafs, 2 points; Mark Giordano, Calgary Flames, 1 point; Keith Yandle, Florida Panthers, 1 point