Last season, Bruce Boudreau sent Marcus Johansson a wakeup call when he made him a healthy scratch in the season opener. The second-year right wing finished the season with 14 goals and 46 points in 80 games.
Two games into this season, Adam Oates is delivering the same message to the same player.
After logging 17:15 of ice time on the Caps’ top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom in a season-opening 6-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Johansson saw just 10:30 of ice in Tuesday night’s 4-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. He took just one shift in the final period.
“I thought he could play better,” Oates said. “You hope every guy uses his strengths. One of Marcus’ strengths is his skating ability and I don’t think he was skating. I was looking for a spark, something else.”
That spark was Matt Hendricks, who scored a goal, got into two fights and was the lone bright spot in an otherwise dismal home opener.
With Alex Semin now in Carolina, the Capitals need Johansson, 22, to improve on his offensive totals of last season. Oates gave him that chance by promoting him to the top line during training camp and asking him to use his speed to be the first forward in on the forecheck, creating turnovers for his skilled linemates.
That hasn’t been the case in the first two games of the season and while Ovechkin has taken much of the heat for not adapting to right wing, Oates has made it clear that Johansson’s uninspired play has been a factor in Ovechkin’s slow start.