“They worked pretty well together last year from what I understand,” Trotz said. “But I’m going to play him on the right side. I think him and Nicky play a lot together and Ovi, so they did last year, they do on the power play. I think it’ll work. They’re both all three veteran players, so there shouldn’t be any insulation for anybody.”
The 24-year-old has spent all of 2014-15 on the left wing, but a significant line rejiggering after the Capitals lost for the sixth time in seven games will see Johansson facing the Stanley Cup champions in the penthouse. At various times under Trotz, Eric Fehr, Jay Beagle, Tom Wilson, Joel Ward, Jason Chimera, Andre Burakovsky and Troy Brouwer have all started in that top-line spot, a continual revolving door that often changes mid-game, like Sunday against St. Louis.
“I think we want to switch it up because we haven’t won in a while here,” Backstrom said. “Get some new looks maybe, hopefully we can get it going here.”
Johansson, who will become a restricted free agent next summer, is already enjoying a career season with 13 goals, one short of his NHL-best. Following Trotz’s demands to shoot more, his 11 even-strength goals are six more than his previous two seasons combined and his 88 shot attempts are only 19 short of matching his career-high.
This season, Johansson has skated with Ovechkin for less than 14 minutes at even strength, according to stats.hockeyanalysis.com, and with Backstrom for 47 minutes, 18 seconds. Their possession numbers together are strong as well: 51.7 percent of total shot attempts go in Washington’s favor with Johnasson and Backstrom together, and a whopping 61.8 percent with him and Ovechkin.
Johansson skated more with those two over the prior two seasons, though he and Ovechkin were flipped on their respective wings. From 2012-13 until now, Johansson has skated over 940 minutes at even strength with both, so the familiarity is at least there. Plus, all three are staples on Washington’s top power play unit.
“I think me and Backie knows what we have to do out there,” Ovechkin said. “The guy who going to play with us, I think it’s pretty easy. He just play his game, not try to mess it up with line. With JoJo, he have experience playing with us as well. I hope it’s going to work and I hope it’s going to bring more dangerous in our line.”
Asked whether having seasoned veterans like Ovechkin and Backstrom made him more comfortable shuttling the cavalcade of wingers into that spot, Trotz agreed.
“I think so,” he said. “I think they’re both stars in the game and they don’t need to be stroked, to have everything their way. I think they’ve embraced different people. Their point totals, Ovi does not complain about who he’s playing with or why or anything. Just wants to play. Same with Backie. They say whoever you put there, we’ll make it work.”
With the trade deadline less than a month away, General Manager Brian MacLellan has said he hoped to use February as an evaluation period for the top-line right wing spot and the second-line center position currently occupied by forward Evgeny Kuznetsov. But when asked if he had a timeframe for cementing someone beside Ovechkin and Backstrom, however, Trotz said no.
“I don’t have any timeframe for anything really,” he said. “My only timeframe really is 7 o’clock tonight. There’s no timeframe. Hockey’s a sport where you have to adjust on the fly, adjust on injuries. … Whoever’s here, that’s what matters right now.”
NOTE: Forward Andre Burakovsky returns to the lineup after three games as a healthy scratch, playing left wing for the first time during his rookie season. He will skate with Troy Brouwer and Evgeny Kuznetsov, keeping in tune with Washington’s recent decision to continue developing Kuznetsov at center and plug Burakovsky at his native wing.
“That’s where he’s going to ultimately play,” Trotz said of Kuznetsov. “I think my goal is to down the road, to have them both play, unless we did something different where that changed the philosophy. Right now, down the road, Burt does a lot of the same things that Marcus can do, so we’ll just try him there.”