- The Washington Times - Monday, October 31, 2016

Over the Capitals’ last two games, forward Marcus Johansson has been an offensive force, with a burst of production —  four goals and an assist in back-to-back efforts against the Vancouver Canucks and the Calgary Flames — that has made him the team’s leading scorer and cemented his position as one of the team’s most valuable assets.

“He’s just going to the right spots, he’s skating,” coach Barry Trotz said after Johansson’s most recent two-goal effort. “Jojo’s using his God-given talent and his skating, and his line is good.”

Trotz is right, Johansson’s line is good, but the line is also good because Johansson mixes so well with any combination of teammates. According to Hockey Analysis, players that play with Johansson — this year, it’s primarily been center Nicklas Backstrom and right winger Andre Burakovsky, though he has played the last two games with center Evgeny Kuznetsov and right winger Tom Wilson — Johansson is improving every one of his linemates’ possession statistics, meaning players tend to generate more shot attempts than they allow when they play with Johansson than they do without. That suggests that Johansson not only gels well with his linemates, but he helps drive possession.

Since joining the Capitals in the 2010-11 season, Johansson has bounced all around the Capitals’ forward groupings. Sometimes, Johansson will play as a second line left wing. Sometimes he’s on the third line. Occasionally, he may even find himself on the first line. Sometimes he may line up on the right side of the ice, and sometimes he may even play at center.

That versatility has benefited the Capitals dramatically because it translates to special teams. Johansson is a key member of the Capitals’ first power play unit, generally hiding behind the net, feeding the puck to T.J. Oshie in the slot, finding Backstrom along the half board or Alexander Ovechkin at his typical spot around the left face off dot. But sometimes Johansson creeps up along the edge of the crease, looking for a rebound opportunity or a backdoor pass from Ovechkin, which is how Johansson scored his first goal against Calgary.

“Great pass by [Ovechkin],” Johansson said. “I mean, he hit me right on the tape and I just had to put my stick there. So, those are nice. I’m happy to take those. But as long as we’re winning and we’re getting the power play going, that’s huge for us. It was a big factor last year, so that’s a good feeling.”

It also appears that Johansson may be getting eased into a penalty killing role. Over the last two games, Johansson has played 31 seconds on the penalty kill. That may not sound like much, but that already gives Johansson 1:15 total minutes on the penalty kill this season. Last year, Johansson had just 3:39 minutes. The year before that, just 3:02. Johansson may not end up being Trotz’s go-to guy on the penalty kill, but the fact that his totals may increase as the season goes on speaks to Johansson’s versatility. He’s providing another option for a team that already has so many.

“I haven’t been out there much, but so far, so good I guess,” Johansson said. “I think it’s something I’m trying to work in a little bit, and you never know when you are going to need it. It’s fun to be out there. I’m happy with it.”

Through eight games, Johansson has five goals and four assists, making him the leading goal scorer and point scorer on the Capitals team. Johansson, who is been a consistent mid-40 point scorer since his rookie season, appears to be on track for another standout year.


• Tommy Chalk can be reached at tchalk@washingtontimes.com.

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