Karl Alzner texted Alex Ovechkin an inside joke following the star’s hat trick in the Capitals’ 5-4 win in Ottawa on Thursday. Ovechkin, Alzner recalled, laughed and replied, “Don’t block any of my shots.”
Speaking to reporters from Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Alzner stood in the visiting locker room, a place he hadn’t been since his days in prospect camp, sitting next to Grant McNeill.
After signing a five-year, $23.125 million deal with the Montreal Canadiens in the offseason, Alzner is preparing to face his former team for the first time Saturday at 7 p.m.
For another season, Alzner will be part of the Capitals’ home opener. This time, he’ll be the opponent.
“There’s going to be a lot things I’ll be focusing on here in just playing the right way that it’ll be hard to focus on behind the scenes,” Alzner said of his return. “Hopefully it’s not going to come into play, but I imagine once I get to the rink, it’ll be a little strange.”
If it were up to him, playing the Capitals would come in the second game of the season. Alzner, who was the fifth overall pick in the 2007 draft, is still adjusting to Montreal after spending the previous nine years in Washington. The Canadiens’ defensemen play in a zone scheme. Alzner is used to playing man-to-man.
The Capitals and Alzner moved on from each other because a lack of salary cap space. The defenseman admitted in the playoffs that he knew his time in Washington was limited. There wasn’t a serious effort to bring him back once he reached free agency.
Alzner said he wished he was coming to Capital One Arena as a “well-oiled machine.”
“Right now he’s still a guy in transition trying to feel more and more comfortable with our game,” Canadiens coach Claude Julien said. “You can see that he’s working hard at it. I just see a guy getting better and better here as he gets more and more comfortable. He’s got a great attitude, a great demeanor.”
As a Canadien, Alzner said he tries to stick to his usual pre-game routine. But he’s getting used to the differences. Alzner changed his number from No. 27 to 22 and still occasionally places his stick in the locker of teammate Alex Galchenyuk, who wears No. 27.
The defenseman will also have to fight off the urge to play basketball as a warm-up before the game. With the Capitals, Alzner would take the practice court with John Carlson, T.J. Oshie and others.
There is also a fine line Alzner will try to walk. He wants to reach out to his old teammates to catch up, but doesn’t want to bother them since it’s early in the season and he’s aware most of them have families. Furthermore, he wants to hang out with his Canadien teammates and get to know them better.
Capitals coach Barry Trotz said he understands the dilemma.
“I know he’s getting torn probably and getting pulled in a few directions right now, emotionally and also physically, I’m sure,” Trotz said.
For the Capitals, there’s also a weirdness from Alzner not being around. Trotz said Alzner was one of the favorite guys in the room.
When he looks back on his time with the Capitals, Alzner said he’ll remember the good times rather than the playoff defeats. But those memories are just that now.
Alzner recently sold his house in the area. He has embraced the move.
“It’s just another page,” Alzner said. “I’ve had a lot of time to reflect in the summer. I’m on to a new chapter.”
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