NEW YORK — Washington Capitals center Marcus Johansson has been suspended two games for an illegal hit to the head of New York Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey, the NHL Department of Player Safety announced Friday. Johansson is the second Capitals player suspended this week; center Zach Sill was hit with a two-game suspension for boarding Boston’s Adam McQuaid on Tuesday night.
Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, and based on his average annual salary, Johansson will forfeit $40,322.58. The money goes to the players’ emergency assistance fund.
With both Johansson and Sill out against the Rangers, the Capitals recalled forward Paul Carey from the American Hockey League and reassigned defenseman Ryan Stanton to create roster space for the transaction. Newly acquired center Mike Richards will not play against the Rangers, as he isn’t ready after not playing since early April.
That Johansson has been suspended for a bad hit is surprising considering his track record. It’s his first suspension, and entering Thursday night’s game against the Islanders, Johansson had only taken two trips to the penalty box all season and is the least penalized player for the Capitals among skaters who have played at least 30 games this season. Johansson isn’t known for his physicality, with just 25 hits in 39 games.
He’s previously received votes for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, given to the player who has exhibited the best sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with excellent play.
This was Johansson’s hit on Hickey that led to the suspension:
“I just tried to hit him,” Johansson said after the game. “I went in with my shoulder, and you know, I don’t know if he had his head low or not, but I went in with my shoulder. That’s all I saw from my vantage point.”
In a video released by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, a spokesman said that while Hickey was eligible to be checked on the play in a legal fashion, “rather than hitting squarely through his opponent’s body, Johansson extends his body unnecessarily upward and makes Hickey’s head the main point of contact.”
Hickey left the ice for several minutes but returned and finished the game. He was diplomatic in his comments about Johansson and the hit.
“I haven’t seen the replay yet,” Hickey said. “He’s an honest player. It’s probably 50 percent me. I’ve got to get my head up. I was just trying to get the red line and get it in. It’s probably half me getting my head up and half him probably being a little more conscious. Like I said, I didn’t see it, so it’s tough for me to really say. …
“He’s not a dirty player, but maybe it was a dirty hit. Like I said, I don’t think he’s got bad intentions. But certainly you’ve got to be a little more careful. That’s something we’re trying to get out of the game.”
That Hickey felt he needed to get his head up reflected Capitals Coach Barry Trotz’s observations of it after the game, too.
“I watched it,” Trotz said. “Their guy was putting a puck into the zone. Marcus came into him and got him with a shoulder. Marcus is not that type of player at all. It’s unfortunate, but he was bent over when he shot it in a little bit, so his head came down a little bit. Marcus was trying to hit him right through the crest, so I didn’t [think] there was any malice or anything vicious on that. It was just a hard hit.”
Here’s how the NHL spokesman addressed that in the video Player Safety released about Johansson’s suspension:
“While Hickey is low to the ice as he steps up, he does not materially change the position of his head just prior to or simultaneous with contact. If Johansson wishes to deliver this check, he must do so in a way that does not make the head the main point of contact.”
The Capitals practiced on Friday as if Johansson would be suspended, moving Evgeny Kuznetsov up to the top power-play unit, where Johansson typically plays, and putting Andre Burakovsky on the second power play. It’s likely that Michael Latta will center the team’s third line against the Rangers on Saturday. Carey, who can play at either wing or center, could be an option for the fourth line, as could Brooks Laich.
Carey, 27, registered 23 points (12 goals and 11 assists) and 14 penalty minutes in 35 games with Washington’s AHL affiliate this season and ranks second on the team in goals and points. He has earned one assist in 22 career NHL games with the Colorado Avalanche.