Back in early January, with Jay Beagle recovering from hand surgery and Mike Richards adapting to a new team after signing as a free agent, Caps fans wondered which of the two would center the Caps’ third line once everyone was at full speed.
Marcus Johansson appears to have answered that question.
Returning to the lineup after a four-game absence due to an upper body injury, Johansson fueled the Capitals to a 5-3 win over the Nashville Predators Tuesday night at Bridgestone Arena.
In 13:27 of ice time, Johansson netted one goal and assisted on goals by Tom Wilson and Justin Williams to help give the Caps their fourth straight win and their 39th victory of the season. Most importantly, he got the Caps’ third line humming again.
“Those two guys are easy to play with,” Johansson said of Chimera and Wilson, each of whom scored a goal. “We play a simple game, we move our feet and we got it going. It’s good to be back and there’s nothing better than being back and being a part of a win.”
The line of Chimera, Johansson and Wilson opened the scoring when Wilson fed Chimera for his 14th goal of the season and first since Jan. 29. Wilson made it 2-0 on another line rush, with Johansson threading a pass to him for a one-timer. It was Wilson’s first goal since Jan. 14, a stretch of eight games.
“He’s my best friend right now,” Wilson said of Johansson. “He gave me an unbelievable pass. It’s nice to have Marcus back. We have so many good players in this locker room. Jojo, Chimmer and I have kind of a weird, good chemistry going. I don’t know what to credit it to, but that’s an all-time pass he gives me there and I was lucky enough to put it in.”
Johansson’s return illustrated how much the addition of his speed and creativity makes the Capitals a more balanced and dangerous team.
“We’re hard on ourselves,” Wilson said. “We want to produce and chip in. Late in the game they turned the puck over and Chimmer was right in front of me looking for a breakaway or 2-on-1 and I didn’t give him the puck and he let me hear it on the bench. … I think that’s why Chimmer’s mad. He wanted to have two tonight and the rest of us had one.”
Despite their offense, Chimera, Wilson and Johansson might have done their most important work with about 2:30 remaining in the game when they helped preserve a one-goal lead with a dominant shift against the Predators’ top line, keeping goaltender Pekka Rinne from leaving his crease for an extra attacker.
“It was huge for us,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “That was their big line going head-to-head. The other team was trying to get their goalie out and we did a good job there.”
Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, who stopped 23 shots to improve to 34-5-3, agreed.
“When you get a shift like that it shows the composure we can have,” he said. “It gave them no breathing room at a very important time of the game. I’ve said it a million times, we get different performances from people every night.”
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