Swedish bruisers. (Photo credit: Len Redkoles)
Over the past season, we’ve seen Marcus Johansson go from a talented set-up man into the Caps third leading goal scorer. Andre Burakovsky has gone from an 19-year-old babyfaced rookie into, for a while, the team’s top-line right wing. In the past two weeks, those two have added more facets to their game. In the 2015 playoffs, Johansson and Burakovsky have become physical forces on the ice. But instead of going for needless checks that only put them out of position as so many players do, Marcus and Andre pick their spots, using their bodies to bump opponents off the puck or maintain possession.
“You never want to approach a game looking for hits,” Brooks Orpik, who was third in the league in that stat during the regular season, told me Wednesday. “If you do that you’re gonna be out of position.”
“We can’t try to be a skill team all the time,” he added. “If you are a big team, you have to use that to your advantage.”
Scary moment, but a false alarm. First, Eric Fehr went down after a shoulder hit by Kyle Okposo, then Marcus Johansson suffered what could have been a bad injury from Cal Clutterbuck.
(Mojo’s okay now. Deep breaths, everybody.)
The Washington Capitals were outgunned and out-hustled in the first period against the New York Islanders. It felt like every dangerous chance came off of an Isles player’s stick. And then, with under a minute to go in the period, good ol’ Canadian Boy Brooks Laich shook things up.
Laich chased Jay Beagle’s seemingly harmless dump-in and won a battle behind the net. Laich’s tenacious forecheck created chaos, then a turnover. Once he got to the puck, Laich threw a beautiful pass to Marcus Johansson, skating hard to the slot. Mojo buried it.
Evgeny Kuznetsov just authored one of the most beautiful assists of the season. As he skated around the Bruins’ net, Kuznetsov threw a no-look pass behind-his-body to Marcus Johansson, crashing the net. Tuukka Rask, who was following Kuznetsov around the net, was caught off guard by the play, and Joe Hanson tapped the puck home for his 20th goal of the season– a career high.
That was a dumb period. (Photo credit: Justin Tang)
On this festive weekend, the Caps looked to clinch a playoff berth with a regulation win over the Senators. Instead, they dug themselves a huge hole early. Somehow, they came back. Then they blew it again. Oh well. Put down your matzo and wine, it’s no time for a yeast-less party.
Marcus Johansson has been one of the Washington Capitals’ most improved players this season. One of the main reasons Johansson has set a career high in goals is that he is shooting the puck more than he ever has in his career. I talked about this back in December. Here’s a quick recap:
In terms of shots per game this season, Johannson is averaging 2.04 shots. If he were to maintain this over an 82 game season, he would have 167 shots on goal, shattering his previous career high of 107 he set last season. If, Johansson were to pump 167 shots on net in a season and shoot at his career average of 12.8 percent, he would score 21 goals, which crushes his career high of 14 set in 2011-12.
However, Johansson’s play hasn’t appeared as strong lately. Including his empty net goal against Columbus, Johansson has just three goals over his previous 21 games. Something is up.
With just a few days left before a trade deadline, managers around the NHL are comparing their teams to the rest of the league and looking for the pieces needed for a playoff run. With the new playoff format, it’s especially important to overmatch the division rivals you are likely to face early in the postseason.
The Caps, despite sitting just fourth in the Metropolitan division, keep up with the teams above them in most statistical categories. But there is one area in which they are struggling: the second line.
In the first period, John Carlson scored on a point shot off a face-off. Or so we thought.
The puck took about a half-second to reach the net, but when the footage is slowed down, you can see two Caps forwards may have got their sticks on it.
As the puck passes Troy Brouwer, it definitely ramps up off his stick.
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