After struggling through the first four games of the season, Marcus Johansson will sit out as a healthy scratch Sunday afternoon as the Capitals host the Buffalo Sabres. Mathieu Perreault, who was scratched against New Jersey on Friday, will take his place in the lineup.
“I just think he’s been a little bit unlucky lately,” Coach Adam Oates said of Johansson. “Give him a chance to take a step back and watch a game and re-evaluate.”
Johansson started the season skating on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom but after two turnover-prone performances, the 22-year-old Swede was demoted to the fourth line on Jan. 24 against Montreal. Through four games, he has no points, two shots and is a team-worst minus-5.
Last week, Johansson acknowledged that he needed to play better after playing only 50 seconds in the third period against Winnipeg on Jan. 22.
“I didn’t play good and I didn’t expect to play much more than that,” Johansson said. “I didn’t play good and the guys that play good is the guys that should play.”
Oates hopes that the third-year pivot can get a fresh start by taking a view of the game from the pressbox.
“You’ve got to evaluate yourself listen to what the coach says, take what you want out of it. You’re supposed to play the way that that system is and what that coach wants and he’s been trying,” Oates said. “He’s been a little bit unlucky and caught out there little bit of bad luck. I want to give him a breather because sometimes when it’s not going your way and you’re a young kid it can snowball.”
Oates said the decision to scratch Perreault in New Jersey was more of a “numbers game” than a reflection on the center’s performance in Washington’s 4-1 loss to Montreal. Perreault, who complained about a lack of ice time after the first two games, will get another opportunity to prove he can make a difference in the Capitals lineup.
The rest of the lineup will be the same as it was Friday in the 3-2 overtime loss to New Jersey, which means Tom Poti and Roman Hamrlik will sit out again in favor of John Erskine and Jeff Schultz. “Ersk and Schultzie contributed a lot and that’s why we’re going back with them,” Oates said.
Meanwhile, the Capitals will catch a break this afternoon as Thomas Vanek will not play for the Sabres because of a muscle strain. Vanek has nine points (3 goals, 6 assists) in four games so far this season.
Be sure to check back following warmups for the line combinations and defensive pairings.