Marcus Johansson came up empty on two prime scoring chances during the opening shift of Tuesday’s 4-0 loss to Carolina, a frustrating start for the versatile forward to begin what turned into a long night for the Capitals.
Despite those struggles to finish, the jump to the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Mike Ribeiro provided Johansson another indication he’s turned the corner in his recovery from a concussion that cost him 12 games and may have hampered him even more than that. He continues to round into form heading into Thursday’s rematch in Raleigh.
“Everything’s a little quicker now,” Johansson said. “I feel better. My whole body feels better, so everything’s a little quicker and stronger.”
Thanks to Coach Adam Oates’s shakeup of the forward lines, Johansson appears likely to run on the second line on Thursday, which will be his third game back.
After playing wing on the first line beside Ribeiro, Johansson donned a gray practice jersey on Wednesday, working at center flanked by Eric Fehr and Troy Brouwer.
“It’s fun to play both,” said Johansson, who scored his only goal of the season in a Feb. 5 loss to Toronto. “It doesn’t really make that big a difference.”
With Brouwer and Fehr, Johansson would replace Nicklas Backstrom, who was bumped up to the line with Ovechkin late in Tuesday’s game and practiced there again on Wednesday.
“His first game back, I thought he was the best player on our team with energy and playmaking ability,” Brouwer said. “They kind of eased him in on the third line there and then moved him up, gave him more responsibility last game. … Hopefully we can create some offense and get some chemistry tomorrow night.”
Oates shared mixed feelings about Johansson’s inability to capitalize against the Southeast Division-leading Hurricanes.
In defending Ovechkin’s lack of production over the past few games, the coach noted that the high-scoring winger set up Johansson for several quality opportunities: “We score two early and we might win 6-1,” Oates said.
On the other hand, Johansson did his part on those plays, too.
“He skated good last night,” Oates said. “Because of that, he drove the net and Ovi and him had two nice plays. He had four in-alones. He had two breakaways… and he had three other Grade-A chances. You’ve got to be doing something right to get those chances.”