BY MELISSA ZIELINSKI
As the puck drops Saturday night Marcus Johansson will realize one thing – he’s not a rookie anymore. Entering his second year with the team, Johansson faces extra pressure to perform during the 2011-12 campaign.
Since the bar will be set high for the sophomore forward, Johansson wants to continue the momentum that propelled him through the second half of the season and into the playoffs in 2010-11. As a rookie the Landskrona, Sweden, native had 27 points (13 goals, 14 assists). He also added six points during the postseason (two goals, four assists in nine games).
“I just have to try and play the same game that I did last year,” Johansson said. “That’s what got me here and I think I have to keep playing the way I’ve always played.”
His preseason numbers, zero points and four shots on goal (SOG) in five games, haven’t made a significant impact on the scoresheet, but the sophomore forward believes they are just the type of growing pains players experience when returning from a long summer drought.
“It’s been alright,” Johansson said about his exhibition play. “It’s not as good as I know I can play, but it’s the same for everybody. You just have to step your game up and be on your best now when it starts.”
During practices leading up to the October 8th home opener against the Carolina Hurricanes, coach Bruce Boudreau didn’t shy away from experimenting with his offensive lines. It was a type of “player musical chairs” that included Johansson.
Boudreau swapped Johansson for Mathieu Perreault during one line combination. The change left Perreault to skate alongside Alex Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer on the top line. Johansson skated between D.J. King and Jay Beagle, a typical third- or fourth-line pairing.
“Is he the odd man out?” Boudreau asked. “I’m not saying he is at this point.”
With Johansson being an integral part of Washington’s off-season planning, they hope he’s on the upswing. Johansson is also looking at the line swapping from a team perspective.
“I was talking to Bruce yesterday and I think he wants to change something to get something to happen,” said Johansson. “ He wants to try something new and he’s the coach, so he decides.”
Boudreau also sent the reminder that this is only Johansson’s second season. He has confidence in his young forward.
“We’d like to see more from him, but maybe we expected too much from him at the start. He’s only a second-year guy,” said Boudreau. “I still think Marcus is going to have a great year, let’s not kid ourselves.
Now with camp in the past, Johansson can focus on preparing himself for the regular season. Come Saturday he’ll have the added comfort of knowing that one thing’s different - he’s not a rookie anymore.