Marcus Johansson knows that the Capitals need him to help pick up the slack while Nicklas Backstrom is out indefinitely with a concussion. The 21-year-old Swede also knows better than to put extra pressure on himself in an effort to be like his fellow countryman.
“There’s no pressure to be Nick. No one can be Nick,” Johansson said. “He’s such an extraordinary player, you can’t replace him. I’m just trying to play my game the way I always play. I’m still me, so I’m trying to do what I always do.”
In the seven games Backstrom has missed, Johansson has three goals and two assists and he’s been skating on the top line alongside Alex Ovechkin on a daily basis.
It hasn’t been an even sophomore season for Johansson. He started the season well with six goals and three assists in the first 13 games of the year, but then went 20 contests without a goal. In the past 11, however, his offensive game has come back to life with four goals and five assists.
Given Backstrom’s injury, it couldn’t come soon enough for the Capitals as a whole.
“He had to step in, play an offensive role and replace Nicky until he gets back and he’s done a great job,” Coach Dale Hunter said. “With his speed, he’s kind of a different centerman. Nicky’s tricky but Marcus has more speed and backs off the defensemen to give openings for the wingers.”
Tonight against Carolina, Hunter has chosen to keep Ovechkin, Johansson and Troy Brouwer together as the Capitals’ top unit. On paper it appears to provide a good balance, between Johansson’s speed, Ovechkin’s shot and scoring ability and Brouwer’s willingness to crash the net and cause problems for the opponent. They were all on the ice for two goals in Montreal, Johansson’s tally at even strength and Ovechkin’s on the power play.
“Those two guys have a really good shot,” Johansson said. “I think Troy is always working so hard, winning pucks in the corners and all that. So we have a couple of guys on our line that can score and when we do that and work hard in our end and do the right things I think we’re a pretty good line.”