Even if Alex Ovechkin was healthy and in the lineup, Friday in Philadelphia the Capitals would likely still have featured new forward line combinations.
“Because we lost two in a row,” Coach Adam Oates said, “I was probably going to do something anyways.”
Oates went on to explain that he wanted to keep certain forwards together that he believe have established chemistry like Jason Chimera and Joel Ward, Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer, so he focused changes elsewhere. Martin Erat moved up to first-line left wing alongside Nicklas Backstrom and, with Ovechkin out, Eric Fehr. In another interesting alteration, Oates moved Marcus Johansson to center on the second line.
Johansson has skated more at left wing than his natural position of center during Oates’s tenure, but the coach has been encouraged by the 23-year-old’s recent play. He also prefers to play Laich on the wing, which this configuration allows for.
“I think he’s been playing good hockey,” Oates said of Johansson. “So I wanted to put him between Brouw and Brooksie and see if we could generate something there for him and move Brooksie back to wing, which is really the thought that I’ve always liked. I know [Laich is] very versatile but I like him on the wing a lot, so I’d like to see where we go from there.”
While Johansson’s turns at center have been infrequent, he is looking forward to lining up at center again and getting new opportunities to use his skating ability to his advantage.
“You’re more involved, you get to skate more,” Johansson said. “You don’t get to forecheck as much, maybe, but you get to skate up and down and just be involved in a lot out there. I don’t mind it. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun just to try something different.”
Given Johansson’s pass-first mentality perhaps he can help ignite the offensive games of both Brouwer and Laich at even strength as well.