- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The mindset of a hockey player who is a healthy scratch is an odd one. Someone — usually the coach — is saying you don’t deserve to be in the lineup. And when it happens to a star, it can be jarring.

“You can’t let it bug you, but you’ve got to let it [tick] you off,” Washington Capitals forward Troy Brouwer said.

While the rest of his teammates soaked up the energy of opening night at Verizon Center, Marcus Johansson had to watch. He was the healthy scratch and made no secret in the days following that he wasn’t too happy about it.

So Monday night, back in the lineup against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Johansson played like a man possessed. He had a goal and an assist in the Capitals‘ 6-5 shootout win and consistently was the best player on the ice.

“That’s absolutely what you’re looking for,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “Here’s a guy that sat out a game. He came out and he just said, ‘I’ll show them.’ And that’s the kind of attitude you’re hoping [for].”

At the start of training camp, Johansson was the center on the Washington’s top line, alongside left wing Alex Ovechkin. And center Mathieu Perreault was one candidate of many for the final roster spot. But when the season started Saturday, Perreault was playing and Johansson wasn’t.

Boudreau conceded he may have expected too much from the 21-year-old Swede. But Sunday, he said that he just wanted Johansson to “play up to his capabilities — that’s all. We’re not asking him to be Superman or to invent the wheel or do any of those things.”

If Monday night was Johansson’s capabilities, he looked a lot like Superman — or at least a lot like a first-round pick who could one day be an NHL All-Star.

“I just played my own game, I think,” he said. “I tried to play as hard as I could.”

Johansson’s comments afterward hardly were indicative of his play. But one shift seemed to say it all.

With the Caps trailing 1-0 early, Johansson carried the puck into the offensive zone, shot it off the end boards and then turned on the wheels. As Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson dived out of the crease to cover up, Johansson poked it away, skated behind the net and tucked a wraparound shot into the net.

As right wing Alexander Semin hugged him and his other teammates came over to celebrate, Johansson never smiled. This was just one play of Johansson’s best case to Boudreau that he should never be a healthy scratch again.

“I just try to play the best I can every night,” Johansson said. “Most of the game we played good, and then it’s easier to play good yourself. I think it was fun to play, and you know it’s fun when we work hard and when we work as a team.”

Johansson also helped set up Brouwer’s first goal with the Capitals. And twice he drew penalties because of his speed and determination.

“If you work hard it’s going to happen, you know: You’re going to get penalties,” Johansson said. “They’re going to have to pull you down or drag you down.”

Working hard is precisely the point. Athletes always talk about adversity and how they handle it — and Johansson’s teammates were thrilled when the second-year player didn’t pout. He just delivered a memorable performance.

“I talked to him on the bench and said that was one of the best games I’ve seen him play,” said left wing Jason Chimera, whose two goals Monday gave him a team-best three for the season. “He was hitting, he was skating, he was shooting. That was maybe one of the best games he’s played as a pro. I told him I was proud of him on the bench because he deserved it.”

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