Apprenticing in a Pivotal Pivot Position

In the postgame visitors’ locker room at Wells Fargo Center Tuesday night Jason Chimera approached Marcus Johansson, his linemate in overtime of the Capitals’ 3-2 loss to the Flyers, and patiently and supportively explained to the rookie the imperative of maintaining defensive zone coverage on the opposition defender bearing down on their netminder.  Johansson’s rookie error of sagging back further and further in his own end, affording Andrej Meszaros an improved shooting vantage on Semyon Varlamov, possibly cost  the Capitals a point Tuesday night. It was a rookie mistake. The larger mistake, however, was his coach putting him out there on the ice in that situation.

Johansson of course has played precious little four-on-four sudden death hockey on a North American sized ice sheet in his handful of years in professional hockey. In that perilous, pressure-packed moment in his own end Tuesday night, against one of the best teams in the NHL, Johansson simply drew upon the instincts that have served him well as a young pro: centers generally cover low in their own end, and low he went. He was supposed to remain high and pressure Meszaros and try and force the puck out away from the threatening middle of the ice. When you’re young and inexperienced and under pressure understandably you draw upon the habits that you’ve honed successfully. It’s just that in this instance those were the wrong instincts. Johansson finished Tuesday a -2.

It’s Bruce Boudreau’s job to place the rookie in situations offering the greatest likelihood of success for the rookie. Being one half of the second forward unit out for the Capitals in overtime probably wasn’t one of them. And actually, the team’s general manager should place the barely 20-year-old Swede in the situation offering the greatest likelihood of long-term, successful development: in Hershey.

Marcus Johansson, the wager here is, will develop one day into a fine and reliable defensive pivot with decent offensive upside. He’s not that player today, however. He can’t possibly be. And because the Capitals are apprenticing him in the big league they occasionally pay a price for their greed. The Capitals are in desperate need of a veteran playmaking center for their second line. Their failure to secure one last offseason fairly forced Johansson into this season’s lineup. Time will tell about the wisdom of that decision; Tuesday night suggested it was an unwise one.

“Defensemen take [opposing] forwards and forwards take [opposing] defensemen,” a visibly dejected Bruce Boudreau acknowledged of his expectations for his four skaters in overtime. He was not going to offer instruction to his young center prospect last night in a locker room packed with disappointment but rather wait until practice back at the Flyers’ rink Wednesday morning.

Key reads, numerous other high-impact decisions demanded instantaneously, and sundry skill set enhancements are best pursued by first-year North American pros not in the National League but rather the American. The ‘A’ in AHL somewhat stands for “apprentice.” It is there that Johansson should be learning subtle stratagems that often mean the difference between victory and defeat in the big league. Johnasson’s lack of a big league physique would also benefit from competition one level lower; he is especially disadvantaged along the boards in all NHL games but especially in big games like Tuesday’s. And he also ought to work in the minors on improving his 37.5 faceoff percentage.

This entry was posted in American Hockey League, Marcus Johansson, National Hockey League, Philadelphia Flyers, Prospects, Washington Capitals. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Apprenticing in a Pivotal Pivot Position

  1. McKinley2 says:

    Big deal — Caps lost in OT to the top team in the East in a regular season game and Marcus made a boo-boo. He’s far more likely to learn the lesson up in the NHL where he has proven he can play rather than dominating and covering for his mistakes in Hershey with his superior talent.

  2. Zach says:

    Pucks, I am an avid reader of your blog but have never posted. I actually play on the Barbarians B2 squad with one of your friends, I feel terrible I can’t remember his name but I’m new to the Winter league.

    ANYWAYS, in my opinion, Marcus has really seemed to kick his game into high gear, I thought he was the best player on the ice for most of the game last night. Making strong outlet passes on defense and taking advatage of what he was given on offense. He deserved a goal for that move around Ville Leino (No slouch himself).

    My point is, it’s halfway through the season and he he’s starting to pick up the pace. He is certainly making mistakes along the way, but sending him back to the AHL will only take him backwards as a player. He doesn’t need to get used to the NHL speed, he’s quicker than most skaters on the ice!

    Trial by fire is a liberty the caps can take and still not risk missing the playoffs. This team will be strong in the playoffs, and we will make a run this year. The caps are coasting and it pisses fans like us off but the truth is they will make the playoffs and get strong down the stretch beforehand.


  3. I think we’re overlooking the fact that MoJo earned us our first goal last night with his hard work. He’ll be just fine after he gets some more experience.

  4. kelly Chuba says:

    Hershey developed more than half the CAPS. Hershey does it well. Part of me thinks he needed time with us in the first place.

    Disclaimer: HB season ticket holder here

  5. Avtopilot says:

    It’s the same all the time. Great expectations lead to great disapointment.
    The harder one roots for the team, the more subjective one becomes.
    What about Hannan – his performance was awful during the losing streak even comparing to other Ds. There were so many critics on GMGM for the move Flash-Hannan and on BB for not benching him. Now Green – Hannan looks better, isn’t it?
    It’s the same with Ovi, Green, Semin and others – the more you expect – the less you can see positive things and the more pessimistic you become.
    Give Mojo a chance, please – he had a couple of good games and can show he is worth 2C before the deadline.

  6. sonja says:

    Since we’re all weighing in with our inflation-laden $.02, here are mine, for the next to nothing that they are worth …

    I think the money quote is this: “The larger mistake, however, was his coach putting him out there on the ice in that situation.” Referring to BB putting MoJo out on the ice during a sudden death 4 on 4 situation for which he had not prepared his rookie player.

    The horse is out of the barn at this point. Or the cows … or whatever farm animal we’re supposed to use in this pithy analogy. By which I mean MoJo has now spent too much time here and the Bears would be a bad fit for him. He should have been sent there back in October or November, when a place could have been carved out for him, and he was not doing very well at this level.

    The onus now needs to be on the coach … as it should be for much of the disaster that this season has become. He is floundering and out of his element. It’s not going to get any better until he settles down and allows some chemistry to develop between lines … any lines will do at this point. It really doesn’t matter. Just stop playing Russian Roulette out there with the line changes. Let the guys learn who they’re playing with. It’s not going to get any better until he owns his part of the problem as most mature coaches do. This is not an issue of bad bounces and slumps … these players are not playing as a team. That problem starts at the top.

  7. JR says:

    Sometimes you have the luxury of keeping a guy like this in the A for a year. This is not one of those times, so there is no point in pining for it.

  8. nafyekcoh says:

    Okay MoJo is playing for the Bears, now what? With the current list of injuries who do you have filling the void? Prior to sending him down (BTW it’s too late now) let’s look at everyone’s performance. Green, Erskine and Backstrom all made at least one pass last night that led to a perfect scoring opportunity for the Flyers. If not for Varlie the game would not have gone to OT. These are seasoned veterans who should know better. Do they need to be reassigned to Hershey?

    Here’s a general coaching question, what the heck was King doing out there? Come on, that’s not the Caps style and with him in the lineup you might as well be playing 4 on 5. His TOI was a whopping 4:24.

  9. Roderick says:

    P&B this seems to be a rehash of the post you made earlier this year:

    As I told you then, I will tell you now, Marcus Johansson will never play in the AHL, it is the NHL or the SEL.

    Some of the other critical points you make, I completely agree with. BB and his staff are not doing an adequate job of coaching and GMGM has clearly failed this team by not supplying it with a second line center.

    Given the injuries, the current lineup has three legit scoring threats Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Green. Anyone else that happens to score other than Laich should be viewed as a gift but not expected on nay given night.

    Right now the team has basically replaced Semin, Fehr, and Flash with Beagle, A. Gordon, and Perrault. Looking at that mess, I would think that there would be much bigger things to be upset over.

    So what do you have against Marcus Johansson?


    Of course the rookie center’s mistake might not have made a difference if one the supposed top two defenseman on the team hadnt been standing next to the goaltender doing nothing as usual.

    How many opponents game winning goals has Mike Green been on the ice for ? This team isnt winning anything until Green is off the top D-line pairing.

  11. Absolutely MJ90 belonged in Hershey at season’s start. Again: there is no downside to sending a first-year pro there. If he blows up there with preposterous numbers — highly unlikely in MJ90’s case (his shot isn’t all that, for instance) — he merely enters the big league supremely confident. I have no beef with the kid personally; he’s doing everything he can in a tough environment having been treated in his development in most aberrant fashion, relative to virtually all other Capitals’ prospects.

  12. Aaron says:

    A rookie made a mistake – do you mean to tell me that no other Caps have made mistakes that have cost the team? Come on cut the guy some slack – of all the Caps in recent games it’s been Johansson that’s actually looked like making something happen (and scored a few goals too!). The AHL works as a developmental league for guys who aren’t close to NHL-ready when they start their professional North American careers – then they develop into NHL-ready players (or not as the case may be). Johansson came in close to an NHL-ready player, too close to NHL-ready to be sent to the AHL. It’s been said several times here that the best thing for his development is to play against the best players in the world, as he is doing, and we’re seeing huge improvements.

    PS with the face-off win percentage – maybe you should stop quoting old figures, because I’m pretty sure that’s gone up lately as he looks to me to be starting to get the hang of face-offs in the NHL – again, give him some time to develop against the best, and you won’t regret it.

  13. alank says:

    The sloppy puck handling of seasoned players is something that people should be really worried about. The miscue of the young Swede is but a tiny hiccup by comparison.

  14. Not a Straw Grabber says:

    This article is another attempt from a Caps fan who is trying to be a armchair GM and make the situation worse. Why demote a player who is playing some of the best hockey for the Caps?

  15. MadCap says:

    Echoing some of the other remarks, Johansson’s play has actually been one of the bright spots on this team in recent weeks. After the poor showing by much of the team against the Flyers, to single him out as the subject/goat of a post-game article is curious (especially since his steal and near-finish in the offensive zone resulted in Knuble’s goal and sparked the Caps to tie the game in the 3rd – short of this effort, it appeared that the team was on it’s way to another shutout defeat).

  16. Tre Kronor says:

    P&B loves MP85 so much he can’t get over how MoJo supplanted him at training camp. That’s what I see in these posts. I have nothing against MP85 but he clearly can’t play defense as well as MoJo. I also saw no mention of how brilliant MoJo’s foot speed is through all zones on the ice – and how he created the Caps first goal in the Winter Classic – getting to the corner lightning quick and dishing the puck on the tape to Fehr. It was a rookie play worthy of an article like the many written already about MP85.

  17. Tre Kronor says:

    It was the second goal at the WC – not the first.

  18. OrderedChaos says:

    Here’s how I see it: MJ90 is a helluva player with great potential. But he’s a kid, even by hockey standards. He may be ready, now, to be a decent contributor this season. And he’ll likely be back for the playoffs.

    But why not season him in the AHL for a few months, at least? Sure didn’t hurt Mike Green, and many many other current Capitals. The minors, and Hershey in particular, is a great place to learn the nuances of the North American game. I’d rather see MJ90 be a great player soon than just a good player now.

  19. Pingback: Are you quitting on me? Well, are you? – Gunnery Sergeant Hartman | Chirps From The Ledge

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