Sunday, June 07, 2015

Washington Capitals: 2014-2015 By the Tens -- Forwards: Marcus Johansson

“God is not on the side of the big battalions, but on the side of those who shoot best.”
-- Voltaire

It started in the fall.  In 263 regular season games before this season, Marcus Johansson – a scoring line forward for much of his career to date with the Washington Capitals – averaged only 1.29 shots on goal per game.  Among 19 Capitals who played in at least 100 games in the four seasons Johansson skated for the Caps before this one, Johansson ranked 13th in shots per game.  That was fewer than defensemen Mike Green (2.40) and John Carlson (2.04), and it was fewer than forward grinders Jason Chimera (2.14), Joel Ward (1.36), and Matt Hendricks (1.30).  A scoring line forward that shoots so infrequently does not score very much, even if he is a relatively efficient shooting player (12.1 percent in his first four seasons).

With a new head coach though, that was going to change.  Barry Trotz wanted Johansson to shoot more as part of a general philosophy:
“You get the puck, and you’re looking for the next play.  And I think when you have a shoot-first mentality, you get the puck and you’re looking to throw it towards the cage. They’re so skilled and so good at it — if it’s not there, last-second, change your mind, make a quick pass — they’re that good.”
Johansson was a good student.  In his first 15 games he recorded eight goals on 37 shots, capped by a two-goal, eight shot effort in a 4-2 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Veterans Day.  He broke his career best in shots on goal in a season (107) in Game 63.  He broke his career best in goals (14) in Game 64.

His assimilation of more of a “shoot-first” mentality enabled Johansson to finish with career highs in shots on goal (138), shots on goal per game (1.68, best since his rookie season of 1.48), and goals (20).  Curiously enough, he accomplished this while posting a shooting percentage (14.5) substantially better than his career percentage (12.1). 

Drilling down through the numbers, his Corsi-for percentage at 5-on-5 was the best of his career (53.2, besting the 51.4 he posted in 2012-2013).  His Scoring chances/on-ice percentage was the best of his career (plus-47, better than his plus-10 in 2012-2013), and his individual scoring chances at 5-on-5 (122) almost equaled the total he posted over the previous two seasons (132; numbers from

Johansson’s history had been one of a willingness to shoot when in close, but his increased shooting frequency was more a product of calling his own number from farther out, as this graphic from comparing last season to this illustrates:

His average shooting distance was 24.87 feet this season, compared to 22.65 feet in 2013-2014.

The increase in shooting frequency came despite his getting fewer minutes in which to do it.  His 16:49 in average ice time was the second lowest of his five-year career.  And, the ice time came with different dominant partners.  In 2013-2014, Johansson skated most frequently with Alex Ovechkin (56.2 percent of his 5-on-5 ice time) and Nicklas Backstrom (54.2 percent) among forwards.  This season, his most frequent partners were Troy Brouwer (60.0 percent) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (36.9 percent; numbers from

Fearless’ Take: Marcus Johansson was one of three 20-goal scorers for the Caps this season (Alex Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer were the others).  In doing so, Johansson was rather consistent.  He posted goals in each of his eight ten-game segments, and he closed with a rush, recording six goals over his last 19 games.  Then there was the matter of scoring goals in general. Does that matter more than assists?  Perhaps for Johansson, this season, it did.  When scoring at least one goal without an assist, the Caps had a record of 9-2-3.  When recording at least one assist without scoring a goal, Washington was 11-6-3.  “Small sample size” applies here, but shooting more – and scoring more on his own – did not hurt the club.

Cheerless’ Take: Sometimes the kid in class backslides a bit.  Johansson recorded 76 shots in his first four ten-game segments, but he had only 62 in his last four.  His 1.47 shots per game in those last four segments was roughly his production in his rookie year (1.48).

Odd Johansson Fact: Marcus Johansson did not record a single penalty minute in his first four ten-game segments.  He had at least one penalty charged to him in each of his last four segments.  Not that it was a torrent of penalties; he finished the season with only ten penalty minutes.

Game to Remember: November 11th versus Columbus. Marcus Johansson was off to a hot start in the 2014-2015 season.  He was 6-4-10, plus-1 over his first 13 games, including a four-game points streak that was interrupted in his 14th game, a 4-3 overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes.  Looking to start a new streak, Johansson wasted little time in doing just that.  In the second minute of the contest, Andre Burakovsky peeled the puck off the right wing wall in the Columbus zone and fed Troy Brouwer in the middle of the ice.  Brouwer got off a shot just as he was being the Jacket’s Adam Cracknell.  The puck leaked through to the low slot where Columbus’ Alexander Wennberg tried to kick it away.  Wennberg did not get a good foot into his kick, and the puck squirted free where Johansson settled it with his stick and stuffed it behind goalie Curtis McElhinney to give the Caps a 1-0 lead.  Later, with the Caps holding onto a 3-2 lead late in the third period, Johansson struck again, taking a feed from Andre Burakovsky while backing behind the Columbus net.  He used his momentum to circle around the cage and stuff a wrap-around inside the post before McElhinney could slide across.  It came on Johansson’s seventh shot of the game.  He would finish the game with those two goals – one of two two-goal games he had for the season – and eight shots on goal, a career high.

Game to Forget: March 21st versus Winnipeg. The Caps went into Winnipeg in late March on a three-game winning streak, but Johansson was lapsing into old habits.  He was 0-1-1 over his previous five games and recorded only six shots in doing so.  Against the Jets, the winning streak for the Caps came to an end, and the drought for Johansson continued.  He was on ice for each of the Jet’s first two goals, and he failed to record a shot on goal for the second time in three games (he had only one shot attempt).  It extended his streak without a goal to six games, a streak that would reach eight before it ended (over which he had nine shots on goal).

Postseason: 1-3-4, plus-2, 5.6 percent shooting percentage.

The playoffs are different from the regular season.  The urgency of the situation limits time and space, and puts more pressure on shooters.  Its effect on Johansson was significant.  He recorded only one goal on 18 shots in 14 games.  It was worse.  He scored on his first shot of his first game of the postseason and came up empty on his last 17 shots over 13 games.  It is part of a disturbing dichotomy in Johansson’s game.  There is that 12.8 percent shooting percentage in the regular season for his career, but a 7.5 percent shooting percentage in the postseason, despite his averaging more shots per game (1.52 to 1.38).

In the end…

Marcus Johansson made strides in his development this season.  Taking a more self-interested attitude toward shooting the puck was the latest installment in that process.   It came despite his skating fewer minutes at evens and with different partners, a reflection of getting more second line minutes this season than the first line minutes he got in 2013-2014.  There is still the matter of stepping up his game in the postseason.  The lessons, and the fruits of them, that he learned and applied in the regular season did not manifest themselves in the playoffs.  Five goals in 44 career playoff games from a scoring line forward has to improve.  That might be the next step in his evolution.  It is, at least, something to shoot for.

Grade: B

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America

Washington Capitals: 2014-2015 By the Tens -- Forwards: Eric Fehr

“Through perseverance many people win success out of what seemed destined to be certain failure.”
-- Benjamin Disraeli

Over the last three seasons, the leaders for the Washington Capitals in goals per game are: Alex Ovechkin (0.66), Troy Brouwer (0.31), Joel Ward (0.25), and Eric Fehr (0.22).  In 2014-2015, Fehr finished with 19 goals, his highest total in a season since posting a career-high 21 goals with the Caps in 2009-2010.  The 75 games in which he appeared was a career high over ten NHL seasons, surpassing the 73 games he played last season.

Fehr did not have a spectacular season.  For example, while the Caps had seven players (including backup goalie Justin Peters and late-season pick-up Curtis Glencross) named one of the NHL’s three stars in at least one game this season, Fehr is not on that list.  But there he was, providing timely offensive contributions.  The Caps were 13-2-2 in the 17 games in which he scored a goal, 19-5-4 in the 28 games in which he recorded a point.

That he had a solid season should be no surprise.  In one respect, this has always been a part of his game.  In ten seasons he has had but one in which he finished with a Corsi-for percentage under 50.0 (that coming last season – 49.0; numbers from  In nine seasons with the Capitals he has never been below 50 percent in close score situations.  This season he finished at 50.6 percent overall and 50.8 percent in close score situations.

It might warm the hearts of Caps fans to know that of the 19 goals Fehr scored this season, three of them came against the Pittsburgh Penguins, all of them against the Sidney Crosby line (Crosby scored one goal against the Caps this season with Fehr on the ice).  Nine of his 89 career goals have been scored against the Penguins. 

Fehr’s scoring is but a part of the offensive profile.  His scoring chance/on-ice plus-minus at 5-on-5 this season was plus-29.  In his three years in his second tour in Washington he is plus-91 in 200 games (numbers from

And, as it turns out, Fehr likes the outdoors.  In two Winter Classic contests he has three goals, the most of any participant in the history of the New Year’s Day event, including this one at Nationals Park last January:

Fearless’ Take: Eric Fehr, Alex Ovechkin, Troy Brouwer, and Nicklas Backstrom were the Capitals forwards to record at least 80 hits and 40 takeaways.  Fehr did it in more than 300 fewer minutes than all of them.   Against teams qualifying for the playoffs in the Eastern Conference he was 7-5-12, plus-5, in 21 games (a 27-20-47, plus-20 scoring pace).

Cheerless’ Take:  Fehr had 13 goals in his first four ten-game segments, six in his last four segments.  He had 20 points in his first four ten-game segments, 13 in his last four.  He was plus-12 in his first four ten-game segments, minus-4 in his last four.  Not a pattern you like to see.

Game to Remember: December 27th versus Pittsburgh.  The Caps were in the midst of a three-game road trip to wrap up the 2014 portion of the season.  They touched down in Pittsburgh after losing the first game of the trip, a 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers.  Their second game on the trip would be the first in the season series against the Penguins, a team against which the Caps had lost eight consecutive games.  The last time the Caps had defeated the Penguins, on January 11, 2012, Eric Fehr was skating for the Winnipeg Jets.  On this night, though, it would be Fehr starting the scoring for the Caps when he jammed a loose puck past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from the left post late in the first period.  The Caps added a goal by Marcus Johansson early in the third, and Fehr cemented the win mid-way through the frame with another greasy goal.  John Carlson fired a shot from the right point that Joel Ward deflected down out of mid-air to the feet of Fleury.  As Fehr was being checked to the ice by defenseman Scott Harrington at the top of the crease, Fehr one-handed the puck past Fleury to cap the scoring in the Caps' 3-0 win.  It would be one of two two-goal games for Fehr in 2014-2015.

Game to Forget: March 5th versus Minnesota.  The Capitals were nursing a 1-0 lead mid-way through the third period when the game took an odd turn.  With referee Ian Walsh injured and on the ice at one end of the rink, the Wild were rushing into the Caps’ zone at the other end.  Zach Parise controlled the puck long the left wing wall just inside the blue line and slid a pass to Ryan Suter entering the zone.  As Suter wound up for a shot, Fehr slid across but was an instant too late to block the drive, which Jason Pominville attempted to redirect past goalie Braden Holtby.  As Holtby was making a fine save on the Pominville attempt, Fehr did not give up on the play, getting to his feet and to the front of the net.  Once more, he was just a split second too late to prevent Pominville from putting back the puck to tie the game.  Five minutes later, it was Pominville finishing again as Fehr tied up Pominville to deny him as a passing option.  Despite a fine defensive effort on both plays, Fehr finished a minus-2 in the Wild’s 2-1 win.

Odd Fehr Fact: On Opening Night, Eric Fehr logged 21:07 in ice time.  It was the only game all season (including playoffs) in which he skated more than 20 minutes. 

Postseason: 0-0-0, two shots on goal

Eric Fehr missed the last three games of the regular season with an upper-body injury, but he was in the lineup for the Caps for Game 1 of the opening round series against the New York Islanders.  He skated a total of 30 minutes over the first two contests, but in Game 3, on his second shift, he took a hard hit from the Islanders’ Kyle Okposo and did not return.  He would play just one more game in the postseason, the Caps’ Game 7 loss to the New York Rangers in the second round.

In the end…

It has been a long winding journey for Eric Fehr since he was taken 18th overall by the Caps in the 2003 entry draft.  Once thought of as a potential high-end goal scoring winger, he fought through a series of injuries to remake himself into a checking line center who can contribute offense without being depended on as a regular goal-scorer.   It was cruel irony that in what was his most durable season, injuries would strike in the postseason and might have been a factor in the last faceoff he took – the last faceoff the Caps took – of the season, one that he lost and the Rangers scored off of moments later to win Game 7 and the Eastern Conference semifinal series.   It was a blemish on what was otherwise a solid year for Fehr, one that might not have taken place if not for his perseverance in the face of many obstacles along the road as an NHL player. 

Grade: B

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images North America