The Washington Times - November 11, 2011, 08:26AM

Let’s take a journey back to the week leading up to the season opener. Marcus Johansson had been in the spotlight during the preseason, playing a lot with Alex Ovechkin on the Capitals’ top line, but there he was looking an awful lot like he was going to be a healthy scratch.

He was. Mathieu Perreault, who made the team in camp, was the second-line center.


But Johansson came out in his season debut and looked like a totally different player. To say he was flying would be an unfair comparisons for jumbo jets. The young Swede had a goal and an assist to go along with a drawn penalty and more.

That strong play has continued, with the 21-year-old putting up a total of five goals and three assists in 12 games.

But Johansson was not on the ice for Thursday’s practice, which was worrisome until coach Bruce Boudreau explained that “he’s fine,” and just has some soreness.

Whether that lingers remains to be seen, but if and when Johansson plays next, it seems likely he’ll center the top line between Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer. That’s where Mathieu Perreault (the anticipated healthy scratch) was Thursday.

Boudreau likes the speed that Johansson adds, and hinted at him being there against the Devils.

“I think sometimes it makes the line a little quicker,” the Caps’ coach said. “Sometimes you wait. In training camp Marcus wasn’t up to par, in his own words I would think. He’s started to play quite well now, so now if we decided to make the change, it would be a good time.”

In this experiment, Nicklas Backstrom would center a second line featuring Brooks Laich and Alexander Semin.

Ovechkin and Backstrom seem to be kindred spirits, and when Boudreau broke them up during camp he said they’d likely reunite at some point and play together forever. That’ll happen again, but for now, the adjustment for Ovechkin again could turn to skating with Johansson.

“I just think things happen quicker,” Boudreau said. “Nicky’s so good at holding onto the puck, but Alex is very smart at being able to adjust.”