Thursday, June 16, 2011

2010-2011 By the Tens -- Forwards: Marcus Johansson

Marcus Johansson

Theme: “Seeing much, suffering much, and studying much, are the three pillars of learning.”
-- Benjamin Disraeli

When Marcus Johansson took the ice for the Caps at the 1:40 mark of the first period in the 2010-2011 season opener against the Atlanta Thrashers, he had not yet played a league game in North America. New country, new ice dimensions, new style. A challenge for anyone in that circumstance, even the 24th overall pick of the 2009 entry draft. It was not a dramatic opening act for the young Swede, who finished the night with no shots on goal, one faceoff win in eight tries, and an otherwise clean score sheet in 13:06 of playing time.

By the time his regular season was finished, though, Johansson played in 69 games, finished sixth among Caps forwards in goals and points, tied for 11th among all NHL rookie forwards in points, and did it all while only being whistled for ten minutes in penalties while logging more than 1,000 minutes of total ice time.

In between, his ten-game splits show a player who climbed the learning curve with more than satisfactory speed:

It is worth noting that Johansson missed nine games (Games 8-16 on the schedule) with a hip flexor injury after hitting a rut at TD Garden against the Boston Bruins on October 21st. Upon returning to the lineup he did most of his statistical damage, compiling a 12-14-26, plus-3 mark in 63 games, including 21 points and a plus-6 in the 2011 portion of the season (covering 43 games).

His season breaks down into its 2010 and 2011 portions cleanly in terms of ice time. In the 2010 portion of the season he topped 14 minutes of ice time only seven times in 26 games. In the 2011 portion of the season, he played in less than 14 minutes only ten times in 43 games.  Just what you would want to see from a rookie learning and mastering each step on the learning ladder.

Although Johansson showed steady improvement in scoring over the course of the season and was given more responsibility (reflected in more ice time) as the season wore on, one area in which he lagged was in faceoffs. He did not win a majority of his faceoffs on a regular basis, as his ten-game splits indicate:

1st 10: 2 times over 50 percent/six games played
2nd 10: 1/3
3rd 10: 1/10
4th 10: 0/7
5th 10: 2/10
6th 10: 5/10
7th 10: 1/10
Last: 0/12

He was especially weak on the road, winning only 37.9 percent of the faceoffs he took, although the one curiosity in this statistic was that he won a majority of the power play faceoffs he took (53.1 percent).  However, not much can be divined from a 32-faceoff sample.

One area in which he did quite well, though, was turnovers. His takeaway-to-giveaway ratio of 1.62 (47 takeaways, 29 giveaways) had him among the leaders in the group of Caps forwards and was not far off the mark of Nicklas Backstrom (1.74) as a benchmark for comparison.

Odd Johansson Fact… Johansson had more goals in losses (seven in 31 losses) than he had in wins (six in 38 wins).

Game to Remember… March 15, 2011. Marcus Johansson was not a part of the Caps team that lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the 2010 playoffs, but in the Caps first visit to Bell Centre since that playoff defeat, Johansson potted two goals, including the game-winner in a 4-2 decision.

Game to Forget… January 18, 2011. Johansson assisted on the Caps’ first goal in their contest against the Philadelphia Flyers, but he was on the ice for all three Flyer goals (finishing minus-2), including the overtime winner as the Flyers took a 3-2 decision at Wells Fargo Center.

Post Season… At a high level, you might say that Johansson held his own in his first NHL post season – 2-4-6, minus-2, in nine games. But take away a 2-0-2, plus-3 effort in Game 4 of the first round series against the Rangers, and he is left with 0-4-4, minus-5 in eight games. Call it a lesson to be learned in the difference in intensity in the post season compared to that of the regular season.

In the end, the takeaway for Johansson is his improvement over the course of the season. That he would be a more productive scorer late was good to see and perhaps surprising in that he did not play more than 45 games in either of his regular season tours with Färjestads BK in the SEL that preceded his first season with the Caps.

It was a solid year for a rookie who might have been pigeonholed as a third or fourth liner getting his feet wet, but who skated frequently with the second line and also received some significant time centering the top line alongside Alex Ovechkin. The faceoff problems made for some lineup juggling that caused Nicklas Backstrom to take more defensive zone faceoffs than a player of his responsibilities might otherwise take. But that it was Backstrom taking those draws – a player who himself struggled with faceoffs in his first couple of years – which suggests that Johansson’s struggles could be short-lived. All in the process of learning the game at the highest level of performance. It should only get better for him.

Grade: B

(Photo: Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America)

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