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Lucas Johansen remains positive, but knows his NHL future may be with another team

Lucas Johansen remains positive, but knows his NHL future may be with another team

HERSHEY, Pa. -- As the injury to Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny lingered through training camp, it soon became clear a roster that had looked airtight in the offseason would suddenly have a hole to fill on the blue line. Lucas Johansen wanted to win that job.

He didn’t, and though he still has a positive attitude playing in the AHL with the Hershey Bears, the reality of his situation is beginning to set in.

“I put myself in a really good position to get that opportunity and they decided otherwise,” Johansen told NBC Sports Washington. “I controlled everything I could control. I knew that it was going to be my biggest camp and I thought I did well. Most importantly, above all, I proved to myself that I could play at that level. You can't control their decisions. You've just got to go out every day and do your best.”

Johansen, 21, is now in his third season in Hershey and is still waiting for a chance to prove himself at the NHL level. As a first-round draft pick of the Caps in 2016, there is no question that both he and the team had hoped he would have reached the NHL by this point. An injury last season, however, limited him to just 45 games and essentially ended any chance for a call-up.

With Kempny’s injury, Johansen knew there was a chance for him to earn a spot, at least initially, on a reshuffled blue line. Perhaps more significant than the fact that he did not earn that job is who ultimately did. Jonas Siegenthaler, a 2015 second-round draft pick, has become an everyday player. Martin Fehervary, a second-round draft pick from the 2018 draft, played in three games to start the season before the salary cap forced him to Hershey. Tyler Lewington also was kept as a No. 7 due to his low cap hit.

“There's just so many guys and they're so tight to the cap that it's tough to get an opportunity for that reason,” Johansen said.

In addition to those prospects, the team is also excited for 2018 first-round draft pick Alex Alexeyev, who was also expected to compete for a spot in the lineup before a concussion forced him to miss all of training camp.

With Alexeyev and Fehervary, that’s two players drafted after Johansen who already seem to have surpassed him on the organization’s depth chart.

To make matters worse for Johansen, the competition for playing time in Hershey is almost as fierce as it was in Washington. The top four for the Bears is essentially locked in, with Alex Alexeyev and veteran Erik Burgdoerfer on the top pair and Christian Djoos and Martin Fehervary playing on the second. That leaves room just on the third pair and, as Hershey currently has nine defensemen on its roster, that means five players are competing for two spots in the lineup every night.

“That's probably been our biggest challenge this year,” Bears head coach Spencer Carbery said. “Nine defensemen that are all prospects or big parts of our team all have lofty goals of playing in the National Hockey League for the Caps, and so that's tricky because they all want to play, they all want to showcase what they're capable of doing, but there's only six that can dress a night. So we've had to manage that a little bit and some guys have had to wait their turn a little bit longer than maybe the organization would like or obviously they would like.”

As a result, Johansen has played in just six of Hershey’s first nine games thus far.

“You could look at every situation as frustrating or every situation as a positive,” he said. “I try to stay on the positive side as best I can. We got six left D and three right D so it makes for a great competition. Every day, the positive side of this is we're pushing each other and we're trying to get better and we're trying to get that opportunity up top.”

“I couldn't be happier with his approach and how he's come in this year so determined,” Carbery said. “He's working and competing. I didn't see him in his first year, coached against him, but comparative to last year he's on a mission and it's noticeable in practice, it's noticeable in games. He's really trying to prove something here in his last year of his entry-level deal.”

Johansen has remained positive throughout, but with younger players starting to creep ahead of him on the depth chart and ice time suddenly becoming more limited, he knows his NHL opportunity may ultimately come with another team.

For now, Johansen just wants to make sure that when that opportunity does come, he’s ready.

“Obviously I want to be in Washington,” he said. “I want to play for the Capitals. But at the end of the day, I just want an opportunity to play in the NHL. That's my childhood dream and I've been working my whole life for that. But I'm going to keep focusing on every day and try not to get too far ahead into that stuff.”

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Capitals punch their way through Anaheim for the win and California sweep

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Capitals punch their way through Anaheim for the win and California sweep

The Capitals survived a physical affair in Anaheim on Friday to earn a narrow 3-2 win over the Ducks and complete the sweep of its four-game road trip. The bad blood from the previous matchup between these two teams boiled over as the game went on. There were two fights, multiple misconducts and plenty of scrums, but ultimately Washington was able to overcome all the extracurriculars to earn the win.

Here's how the Caps did it.

No angle

Travis Boyd opened up the scoring with a Houdini-like goal in that it came at a severe angle. How severe? The shot actually came slightly behind the goal line.

OK, how is that even possible?

Carl Hagelin made the pass behind the net and Boyd made the one-time shot from just past the goal line. When you look at the replay, the puck actually banked in off of goalie Ryan Miller.

The shot may not have defied the laws of physics as it originally appeared, but it was still a pretty darn good shot to put the Caps up 1-0.

Kuznetsov surprises Miller

When the Caps went to the power play, we all knew who was going to shoot, including Miller and that was the problem.

Washington's power play is run on the half-wall. From there the puck is typically distributed to John Carlson to setup Alex Ovechkin or down low to setup T.J. Oshie waiting in the slot. Typically Nicklas Backstrom plays the half-wall. He is one of the elite playmakers in the league but does not shoot nearly enough on the power play and as a result, no one seems to account for a half-wall shot as a possibility.

Evgeny Kuznetsov was playing the half-wall role on Friday. As he skated casually along the wall, Miller shrunk back into his net and planted against the post. That's not what a goalie does when he is expecting a shot. It looked like Miller was placing himself in anticipation of Kuznetsov passing the puck low behind the goal line. Instead, Kuznetsov called his own number and fired the puck on net which Miller was not expecting or ready for at all and the puck snuck through him for the goal.

A successful offside challenge

Sam Steele thought he had put Anaheim on the board in the second period, but for the first time all season, Todd Reirden challenged the goal as offside. The play was reviewed and showed that Cam Fowler had lifted his back toe off the ice just before Brendan Guhle brought the puck over the blue line. As ridiculous as the video review has made offsides, by the letter of the law the play was in fact offside and the goal was disallowed.

Ryan Getzlaf would score soon after for real this time so the review ultimately did not cost the Ducks, but the point wasn't so much that it cost Anaheim, but that it didn't cost Washington.

Had Reirden lost the challenge, not only would the goal stand as called, but the Caps would have been assessed a delay of game penalty. Instead, the goal was taken off the board and Washington maintained its two-goal lead...briefly.

A bad turnover

Anaheim tied the game at 2 just 45 seconds into the third period. They had complete control of the game. They were getting prolonged offensive opportunities in the Caps' zone and Washington's offensive structure was non-existent. They were skating the puck in, shooting and that was about the extent of the Caps' offense at that point.

And everything changed with one bad turnover.

Less than a minute after Adam Henrique pulled the game even Miller went behind the net and left the puck for Guhle. Guhle took it and put it right to the stick of Vrana. His initial shot was stopped, but he picked up the rebound and stickhandled it past the netminder for the go-ahead goal

Anaheim had all of the momentum and had finally pulled even and then handed the lead right back to Washington.

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Alex Ovechkin jokes he'll retire if he passes Wayne Gretzky on all-time scoring list

Alex Ovechkin jokes he'll retire if he passes Wayne Gretzky on all-time scoring list

While Capitals fans may never want to see the day when Alex Ovechkin officially calls it a career, we may have gotten a small peek into what would be the driving force behind his retirement. 

In an excerpt from an interview with ESPN's Linda Cohn, Ovechkin was asked what would happen if he overtook Wayne Gretzky and became hockey's all-time leading scorer. 

"You're probably never going to see me on the ice again," Ovechkin joked. 

Ovechkin is currently 12th on the all-time goals list with 678 career scores. He's seven goals away from passing Teemu Selanne for 11th all-time and could realistically crack the top 10 by the end of the season. 

To pass Gretzky? He'll need 217 more. 

If Ovechkin has any hopes of catching Gretzky on the all-time points list, he may not get close. 

With 1,242 career points, Ovechkin is 38th on the all-time list and is 1,615 behind Gretzky. Yes, Ovechkin trails Gretzky by more points than he's accumulated over a 15-year career. 

Ovechkin may never come close to Gretzky on the points list, but he'll always be an elite goal scorer and as long as he stays healthy, there's no reason for him not to threaten "The Great One" for the all-time goals crown. 

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