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Assertiveness makes Johansson Capitals' X-factor

by Katie Brown

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz gave a simple piece of advice to forward Marcus Johansson: Shoot the puck more.

It worked. Johansson set NHL career highs in goals (20) and points (47) this season.

"I've always kind of been a pass-first guy, but I think shooting more, that creates more room for myself," Johansson said. "It's been fun. Scoring is fun and I don't mind doing it."

Coming off last season season when he scored eight goals, two at even strength, Johansson was frustrated, but Trotz, in his first season with Washington, knew he could help.

"One of the things I thought with Marcus is he needed to shoot more," Trotz said. "I thought Marcus had more to give in his game. He's a tremendously talented, very, very bright player."

As a result, Johansson's confidence skyrocketed. He was tougher to play against and harder to knock off the puck, in addition to being a scoring threat at even strength and on the Capitals power play. During the Eastern Conference First Round against the New York Islanders, Johansson was held to three points in the seven-game series but established his physical presence in a big way.

In Games 5 and 7, Johansson had four hits. That isn't something he would have done last season and he is expected to continue that against the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference Second Round, just like everyone else. Game 1 is Thursday at Madison Square Garden (7:30 p.m. ET; CBC, TVA Sports, NBCSN).

"One of the lines that we always use is 'Hit or be hit' right at the beginning of the game," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "That gets you into the game. When you're throwing your weight around, you just feel like you're more connected. It's great to see a guy like Marcus decking guys. We all play a little different in the playoffs, and you don't get to see a whole lot of that during the regular season from some guys. I think it's amazing to see what else a lot of guys have."

With Rangers defensemen Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi keying on Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, Johansson has the benefit of being able to fly under the radar. He can lead rushes into the offensive zone and can set up slick passes and behind-the-net plays, all things the Capitals can use to succeed against a tough Rangers team.

Selected No. 24 in the 2009 NHL Draft, the 24-year old has the aura of a much older player. Johansson is in his fifth season with the Capitals and appearing in his fourth Stanley Cup Playoffs. Trotz said Johansson's goal-scoring renaissance is the beginning of things to come.

"I wanted him to play with a little more fire in his game and shoot more and he has," Trotz said. "He's seeing the dividends of it. Sometimes players plateau at a certain level and we talked about pushing him to the next level. He's just entering the prime of his career. Marcus just bought in and he's been really good, a gritty, smart, [highly] skilled, productive player for us, which is exactly what I thought he could be."

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