Carlson expects to return from fractured skull this season for Capitals
ARLINGTON, Va. — John Carlson expects to be back in the Washington Capitals lineup, potentially in the next week, after recovering from a skull fracture and laceration of the temporal artery he sustained when he was hit in the head with a slap shot Dec. 23.
“I would like to play soon,” Carlson said Saturday. “That’s my goal. That’s what from earlier on I had in mind. I think the major hurdles are behind me certainly and I think my expectation would be to play soon.”
Carlson practiced with the Capitals wearing a no-contact jersey again Saturday before they traveled for their game at the Minnesota Wild on Sunday (2 p.m. ET; NHLN, BSN, BSWIX, NBCSWA, ESPN+, SN NOW). The 33-year-old defenseman has been skating with the Capitals for the past 10 days and could be cleared for full contact in the coming days.
The Capitals’ home game against the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday would mark three months since he was injured. Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said March 3 that Carlson has “a set timeframe” for his recovery before he’d be cleared to play. Carlson would not confirm that timeframe is three months, saying, “It’s a rolling target.”
It’s clear Carlson is itching to play, though.
“I’m feeling really good,” he said. “Feel rejuvenated. I think I haven’t had this much time off and over the winter in my life probably. Just try to take care of myself, get better and do things that I otherwise wouldn’t do and get ready for coming back.”
Carlson acknowledged to being scared in the immediate moments after he was struck on the right side of the head with a shot from Winnipeg Jets defenseman Brenden Dillon during the third period of Washington’s 4-1 victory. With blood gushing from the cut in his head, Carlson got up and quickly exited the ice. He spent the night in the hospital before being released the next day.
“Just all the blood and everything, whenever you see that blood, you get a little weary of what’s happening and stuff,” Carlson said. “I’m sure I lost a little bit that day, but they do say you get a lot of blood to the brain, so that’s a good thing for me in the moment.”
Capitals coach Peter Laviolette was among those to check in with Carlson later that night and the following day.
“There’s no question it was scary,” Laviolette said. “It was scary for 24 hours there. So, it was really good to hear the prognosis and to know that John was going to be OK and that in time everything would be back to normal. It’s a dangerous game out there at times. It’s fast. It’s physical. The hits, the puck flies around at 100 miles an hour, there’s a lot of things that can go on and you always want to make sure the player are protected. But there’s things that pop up sometimes that scare you. They’re dangerous and they scare you.”
Carlson said he was fortunate he did not have any concussion symptoms, but it took time for the pain in his head to subside.
“It was more painful for a decent amount of time but, no, still no headaches,” he said. “I never had any kind of concussive symptoms or anything like that, which my protocol was basically returning from a serious head injury anyways, meaning concussion-wise, I would say. But never diagnosed with a concussion or anything like that.”
Carlson would love to return to help the Capitals qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but they’re running out of time. Washington (33-30-7) trails the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders by five points for the two wild cards into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference with 12 games remaining.
He said he wants to return this season regardless of where the Capitals are in the standings, though — if cleared medically.
“My expectation to play is based off of putting myself in no harm right now versus in a year from now and next September and two Septembers from now and five Septembers from now,” Carlson said. “I think I’m not coming back if there’s a risk of anything. So, whether that is now or in five years, that’s when I’ll be back.”
Carlson’s absence has created an unfillable hole in Washington’ defense. Selected by the Capitals with the No. 27 pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, Carlson is their all-time leader among defensemen with 614 points (140 goals, 474 assists) in 917 regular-season games over 14 NHL seasons.
Carlson has 21 points (eight goals, 13 assists) and was leading Washington by averaging 23:24 in ice time in 30 games this season before he was injured. The Capitals were 19-13-4 when he was injured and 14-17-3 since.
“You’re talking about one of the most valuable pieces, your top-end defenseman, a guy that’s put up 70 points and Norris Trophy (finalist) years behind him and Norris Trophy-type player,” Laviolette said. “There’s no question taking him out of the lineup stings.”
So, if Carlson is cleared to play, the Capitals won’t hold him back, even if they are eliminated from playoff contention.
“We have a lot of really good doctors and a really good training staff and we would not put somebody back in there that was not cleared by the doctors and able to handle themselves and take care of themselves out on the ice,” Laviolette said. “So, I think that there’s situations that happen that you do sit there and say, ‘OK, we’re not moving forward with this player.’ However, there’s times that come up where everything is cleared, the player is healthy, he’s in shape, he’s able to do everything he needs to do.
“If you were to go and do that, you would be telling a healthy player that, ‘you’re not going to play.’ That creates problems, too.”