Marcus Johansson, just turned 21 and still the youngest player on the Washington Capitals, found himself in a strange place for Saturday’s home opener against the Carolina Hurricanes: the press box, watching with fellow scratches D.J. King and John Erskine. It was a strange assignment given the young Swede finished last season with a flourish and spent much of the pre-season centering Alex Ovechkin on the Caps’ first line.
Yet, there he was, a healthy scratch on opening night. The indignity of the temporary demotion might have soured a less-mature player, but Johansson took the other path, working hard to re-earn his coach’s trust and when the lineup for Monday’s match with Tampa Bay was posted, Johansson’s name was back on the list between veterans Alexander Semin and Troy Brouwer on the Caps’ second line.
Johansson wasted no time either, scoring the Caps first goal of the night just 4:49 into the first period on his second shift, when he followed up his own shot off the boards, poking the puck from underneath sprawling goalie Dwayne Roloson, and wrapping around the goal and sliding the puck through defenseman Victor Hedman, who was trying to block the crease for an out-of-position Roloson.
In fact, despite Jason Chimera’s two goals and the overall quality of play from the third line, Johansson was probably the best player dressed in red Monday night. Chimera earned the No. 1 Star for tallying twice, but Johansson was indeed named the No. 2 Star by the Washington media.
Johansson spoke to the media after the game with a puffy lip as a result of a second period run-in with Tampa forward Ryan Malone on the play Troy Brouwer scored on, earning Johansson an assist to go along with his goal. Johansson tried to deflect questions about his one-game demotion, rather he emphasized the team effort that led to a 6-5 shootout win over the Lightning.
“I always try to play my own game and play as hard as I can,” says Johansson. “My legs felt good and the whole team worked hard and it was easier to play and tonight it worked. Hopefully, we’ll keep it going that way.”
Not only did Johansson have the goal, but he was a force moving with the puck, and drew at least two penalties of the seven assessed to Tampa Bay for the night. Though the Caps did not take advantage of those opportunities, killing penalties still take a lot out of a team and the Caps benefitted from Johansson’s effort in that regard.
“If you work hard it’s gonna happen,” Johansson remarked coolly. “ You’re gonna get penalties and they’re gonna have to pull you down or drag you down.”
But Johansson again politely brushed off questions about his contribution to the scoresheet. “It doesn’t matter who scores or who doesn’t. As long as someone scores it’s a good thing.”
Despite a combined 10 goals in regulation, neither team’s top line registered, leaving Alex Ovechkin and Steve Stamkos out of the goal-scoring explosion. On nights like those, the Caps need all the help they can get from all the lines, and coach Bruce Boudreau noted such in his post-game comments.
“When [media] were talking about this team, they were talking about the depth. The bottom six forwards in the two games, I think, have been the key. Eventually, the top six are gonna start doing what they are supposed to be doing, but right now it’s the bottom six.”
Johansson doesn’t care if he’s in the top six or bottom six, as long as his name is on the lineup sheet somewhere. After his performance Monday night, it’s apparent he didn’t enjoy watching the season opener in the press box and wants to do all he can to keep his name in the lineup.