While it's uncertain how long any of the Capitals' latest line combinations will last beyond Friday's practice, Coach Bruce Boudreau commented on how the recent strong play of Marcus Johansson made him think, why not put Alex Ovechkin next to the rookie center in this round of tinkering?
It won't be the first time that Johansson serves as the pivot on Ovechkin's line this season. Boudreau tried it on Nov. 17 against Buffalo and the young Swede didn't have the most steady outing. But as he's played through the first three months of his NHL career, Johansson's confidence on the ice has grown.
"I think just knowing you can't take a shift or a night off -- you've got to really pay attention and you've got to absolutely believe in what you're doing. That's why you're here," Johansson said when asked about the biggest adjustment he's had to make. "You can't look at someone else and think: 'Well he's pretty good'. You've got to know that you're good at what you're doing and go out and do it, not just be around."
Johansson missed nine games earlier in the season with a hip flexor injury and most recently sat out because of lingering effects from blocking a shot with his ankle against Boston on Dec. 18. But in his past five contests, Johansson has created plays offensively while maintaining his responsibility on defense, and looked more at ease. The challenge now is to do so on a regular basis.
"The last five games he's played real well. Before that it's been inconsistent," Boudreau said. "You can see the potential in him and he's a young guy, but he's been consistently good the last five games and that's what we need from a guy like him."
As for the pressure of playing alongside Ovechkin, Johansson believes that he's learning how to accept that role without constantly worrying about where the two-time Hart Trophy winner is on the ice or if he wants the puck.
"Maybe sometimes you do [think about where Ovechkin is] but I think that's where you've got to stop thinking," said Johansson, who also noted how much fun it can be to play with Ovechkin. "He'll get the puck when he should have the puck and he'll make his plays when he should -- that's the part of the game you don't want to think about too much."