Two of the Capitals’ top five scorers among forwards on the 2011-12 team are back. One is back in the lineup, the other is back on the ice.
Marcus Johansson totaled 46 points (14 goals, 32 assists) for the Caps last season, tied for third on the team and third among all Washington forwards in 2011-12. After starting the 2012-13 season as the left winger on the team’s top line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, Johansson dropped down to the middle of the fourth line for a couple of games before falling out of the lineup altogether.
Johansson sat out the Caps’ last two games, but we will slot back into the lineup tonight while Mathieu Perreault will watch from upstairs.
Caps coach Adam Oates noted that Johansson wasn’t skating the way he needed to be in the first couple of games of the season.
“We talked a little bit, obviously,” says Johansson of he and the coach. “I’m excited to come back and play. We’ve all learned the systems a little more and the way we’re supposed to play. I’m really excited to get back and play now. I’ve got to have a good game tonight and help the team win a game. That’s all I am looking for.”
Six games into the season, the Caps are still grasping the finer points of Oates’ style of play, but the team has been far better over the last three games than it was in the first three.
Did watching from above help Johansson’s assimilation of the system?
“Maybe a little bit,” says the 22-year-odl Swedish center. “You see it from a different angle. But obviously I wanted to play, to play and learn. It was Oatsie’s decision and I respect it. I just have to learn and move on and get ready for tonight.
“It’s new systems and it takes a while to learn it and get into the rhythm of it and just get that good feeling about the game. I didn’t play as well as I should have in the first couple of games with the new system. It’s tough, but I need to be better. I know that and I think everybody else knows that, too. It’s nothing to try to hide. I’m really excited and I can’t wait to go out there and show myself and everybody else what I can do.”
Johansson is his own sharpest critic. Knowing that he needs to play better to stay in the lineup, he needs to remind himself not to put too much pressure on himself.
“I think always the pressure I have is from myself,” he notes. “There is pressure from other ways, too, but the pressure I have is mostly from me. I’m used to that. I always want to be good and help the team win and contribute somehow. I’m looking forward to doing that tonight, too.”
Laich’s 41 points (16 goals, 25 assists) were fifth most among all Washington forwards last season. During the lockout, Laich played in Switzerland where he suffered a lower body injury that has kept him on the sidelines thus far in the 2012-13 NHL campaign.
Laich joined the Capitals in Ottawa on Tuesday night, and today was his first day of formally skating with his Washington teammates since last May.
Asked whether sitting out and watching the team’s first six games aided at all in gaining understanding of Oates’ system, Laich doesn’t hesitate.
“I really don’t think so,” he says. “To be honest, I think you’d rather play it and experience it firsthand. Try to take in as much as you can from watching but I’d certainly rather be playing.”
Although Laich’s injury has improved to the point where he is on the ice with the Caps, he still doesn’t have a firm target date for his return to game action.
“I wake up feeling better every day,” says Laich. “The more I can get on the ice with the guys, the quicker it will be. As far as the timeline, I can’t really tell you. I don’t have an exact date. But I’m getting closer and closer every day.”
In addition to updating reporters on his condition, Laich
filled the media in on how he sees the Oates system.
“I actually think it’s fairly simple and from talking with the guys, they agree,” says Laich. “I think it will take a little bit of work to get it down pat, but I think once we get it we can be suffocating defensively.
“I think it can be very frustrating to play against and I think it will also create turnovers in the neutral zone where we can counter-attack and create offense off. But as with anything new, it takes some time to really refine. But I think especially the first two periods of the Ottawa game I thought we were doing it really well. You can start to see that it’s starting to come and be more natural to our guys. We should reap the benefits here very soon.”