Calle Johansson is one of my all-time favorite Washington Capitals players. He’s one of the most consistent two-way defenseman I’ve ever seen play and one of the gosh-darn nicest and funniest guys in the world.
That’s why this is so awkward. Around 8:50 PM on Monday night, tucked in between Alex Ovechkin’s media presser and the NHL Awards tomorrow, the Capitals’ Mike Vogel released the news that Johansson will not return next season as an assistant coach. He has stepped down and will be returning to Sweden.
Photo: Peter Hassett
Filling in for Joe B. has to be tough. It’s even harder when you have to do it on short notice, which Al Koken was forced to do on Sunday after Beninati fell ill. There are, after all, a lot of names to memorize in play-by-play. It seems Smokin’ Al, who flew into Nashville last night after doing yesterday’s game, remembered one name a little too well: Calle Johansson.
Johansson (red) laughs during the preseason Capitals Alumni Game. (Photo: Chris Gordon)
The Washington Capitals’ defense allows the second most shots per game in the NHL. They’ve put perhaps their best defensive prospect, Dmitry Orlov, through recall-scratch-repeat hell. Now that Orlov is finally playing, he’s paired with a guy who has a similar skill set, Mike Green.
Then there’s the frequent shuffling of the Caps blue line deck. Due to injuries, on-ice struggles, waiver pickups, and call-ups from the minors, Washington has used twelve different defenseman this season. Just about every blue liner in the organization has gotten a shot as part of the 2013-14 Caps D corps.
As we head towards the stretch run, the Caps seemed to have settled on a lineup for now: John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Mike Green, Dmitry Orlov, John Erskine, and Connor Carrick. Though Washington’s defense has been its biggest flaw, its recent improvement may also their best chance at making — and succeeding — in the playoffs.
A few weeks ago, I spoke with assistant coach Calle Johansson, the man who runs the Caps’ blue line, and asked him about some of his decisions, including some of the positives from this season.
The full transcript is below.
Photo credit: Bruce Bennett
Over the summer, Washington Capitals defenseman John Carlson was invited to Team USA’s orientation camp held at the Caps’ practice facility in Ballston, Virginia. At that point in time, Carlson was a bit of an afterthought for the team: he was arguably there more to excite the hometown fans than actually challenge for a roster spot.
Four months later, Carlson, after taking advantage of more opportunity due to injuries on the Caps blue line, was named to Team USA’s roster for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The announcement was made on NBC after the Winter Classic.
Washington Capitals head coach Adam Oates had a long, insightful interview with CBC’s After Hours’ Scott Oake and Kelly Hrudey following the Caps’ 5-2 loss to the Calgary Flames. Oates could have been a big curmudgeon after his team’s embarrassing loss on Hockey Night In Canada. Instead, he was open, honest, and he gave insight into his long playing career and the way he coaches his players.
If I had unlimited time with Capitals players, this is exactly the type of interview I’d want to conduct. Maybe with a few more jokes.
Oates talks in detail about Ovechkin’s renaissance under his tutelage. He defends Braden Holtby‘s angry shouting at the bench after being pulled. He defends his comments about Tomas Hertl‘s “disrespectful” between-the-legs goal. He shares a humorous story from his Caps playing days about he and Calle Johansson‘s beef at practices. He even gets asked about his resemblance to actor Ray Liotta.
Comcast Sportsnet sideline reporter Al Koken spoke with Washington Capitals assistant coach Calle Johansson during the first period. Koken wanted to know what the Caps franchise leader in games played thought of his new giant defenseman, Alex Urbom.
Apparently it was comedy hour or something.
Photo credit: Matt Slocum
When Peter Laviolette was panic-fired Monday morning for his team shooting 2.4% through three games at even strength, I laughed. Then I thought about the five-year contract they gave Vincent Lecavalier over the offseason, and I laughed some more. Then I thought about how they traded Vezina-winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky one season and then bought out Ilya Bryzgalov the next, choosing to pay the Russian $23 million over the next 14 years not to play, tears started rolling down my face. Paul HoLOLmgren, you are teh best.
Once I got past that (it was difficult), I was quite happy for long-time Washington Capitals enforcer Craig Berube, who was named the Flyers’ new head coach (Not interim!).
Berube becomes the third player from the Capitals’ 1997-98 Stanley Cup Final team to become a head coach in the NHL joining former Capital captains Dale Hunter and Adam Oates. With former Caps’ 98 Cup Final players Calle Johansson and Olie Kolzig serving as assistants in Washington (Kolzig is goaltending coach), I wondered how many other players from that very-talented, overachieving team are now coaching in hockey.
The number is staggering.
Hold it here! Craig Laughlin poses after scoring a tying goal late in the third. (Photo credit: Chris Gordon)
On a crisp Thursday night in Arlington, Virginia, a bunch of former Washington Capitals got together for the team’s first annual intersquad alumni game. Featuring players flying in from as far away as Sweden (Bengt Gustavsson) and Montana (Brendan Witt), the old Caps engaged in a spirited contest. In the end, team red prevailed 6-4 in the shootout.
The Caps have ramped the visibility in recent years, starting with the 2011 Winter Classic alumni game against the Penguins. Now, though, the quality of the players participating is much improved, featuring a Hall of Fame member and a few All Stars. Granted, most of the elite players are part of the team’s current coaching staff (Adam Oates, Olie Kolzig, and Calle Johansson), but Peter Bondra, Rod Langway, Yvon Labre, and even Kevin Kaminski also participated.
Below, take a look at my photos from the night.
Carrick peeks out from behind Wilson at Kettler Capitals Iceplex in July. (Photo credit: Chris Gordon)
Two thousand twelve first-round draft pick Tom Wilson is fawned over, with good reason. At 6′ 4″, he’s a mammoth dude who scores goals, hits hard, and unleashes a myriad of expletives — the personification of a hockey player. When Caps fans think of the Plymouth Whalers, Wilson is usually the only one who comes to mind. There is, however, another Washington prospect playing in eastern Michigan: fifth-round pick Connor Carrick.
Photo credit: Rob Carr
Nothing is going right for the Washington Capitals right now. But one of the biggest problems is clear: the misfortunes of Karl Alzner and John Carlson. Of the 14 goals the Caps have allowed this season, Carlson has been on the ice for nine of them and Alzner for eight. Until they were broken up at the start of third period, this was the team’s number one defensive pairing. That’s not how you win hockey games, something Washington has demonstrated.
“I have no idea,” Alzner said when asked what was going wrong for the two.
“We’re not getting the bounces, plays that I normally would do, an easy poke check — it’s happening for the both of us,” he added. “We weren’t contributing anything good to the team.”
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