Coach Bruce Boudreau has played his line combinations close to the vest for the most part at the start of this season, but inferring from his comments Thursday, don’t be surprised if second-year center Marcus Johansson skates alongside Alex Ovechkin at some point against the Devils this weekend.
Johansson was given Thursday’s session off because he felt sore following the Capitals’ grueling practice on Wednesday, but Boudreau has every intention of playing the 21-year-old Swede on Friday in New Jersey.
“Some of the young kids sometimes never want to take a day off,” Boudreau said. “He said he was sore and I said, ‘Listen, I need ya, so if you’re sore and if the day off is going to make you better on Friday, you take the day off.’”
The centers who did participate in practice Thursday were all in different spots than where they were last slotted, with Nicklas Backstrom in between Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin on the second, Cody Eakin taking Laich’s spot on the third and Mathieu Perreault, who was a healthy scratch against Dallas, moved to the top line with Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer.
Assuming Johansson is ready to play against the Devils on Friday, he could easily slide into that top-line role.
“I think sometimes it makes the line a little quicker,” Boudreau said of playing Johansson with Ovechkin. “Sometimes you wait, in training camp Marcus wasn’t up to par — in his own words, I would think. But he’s started to play quite well now. Now, if we decided to make the change it would be a good time.”
It’s a twist Boudreau has used on occasion — he put the pair together for much of training camp and the preseason — in order to help propel Ovechkin’s line forward a bit more. Johansson’s speed ramps up the pace of those around him and allows plays to develop faster.
“I just think things happen quicker,” Boudreau said. “Nicky’s so good at holding on to the puck, but Alex is very smart at being able to adjust.”