With Nicklas Backstrom out for at least tonight’s game against the Oilers, it presents an opportunity for Marcus Johansson to step into the top-line center role. Granted as everyone knows, Coach Bruce Boudreau can tinker with the lines at any point mid-game but for the start tonight it will likely be Johansson between Alex Ovechkin and Mike Knuble.
Johansson has played alongside Ovechkin a few times this season, with mixed results. Sometimes the 20-year-old rookie shows signs of nervousness skating on the same line as Ovechkin, but Johansson has excelled in recent games, prompting Boudreau to give him another opportunity. Boudreau added that he didn’t want to break up Jason Arnott and Alexander Semin as two thirds of the second line either.
There is no simple solution to assimilating to playing with Ovechkin, Johansson said but that he’s slowly finding ways to be more comfortable when he’s needed on the top-line spot, particularly when both he and the Capitals’ star left wing seem to play the best with the puck on their sticks.
“I don’t know, it’s hard to say,” Johansson said about finding a rhythm playing with Ovechkin. “You know he’s a great player. When he’s playing his game he needs to have the puck and I do, too, I think. I think with a player like that you have to play together a couple of times.
“It’s always fun to play as much as possible and to get as much responsibility as possible,” Johansson said. “It’s always fun to play with Alex and Mike and hopefully I’ll have a good game and it will be a good night.”
It’s also a little bit of a different experience for Ovechkin, who has had several linemates over the course of his career, but since Backstrom entered the NHL in the 2007-08 season Ovechkin has never been in the lineup without him.
“It’s pretty hard, but it is what it is,” Ovechkin said. “It’s kind of one of those situations for different guys like Marcus, to step up show his leadership and how good he is right now. He’s a real good player. He’s already a leader on the team and he’s going to be a great player.”