Caps' defensemen rally around Calle Johansson

Caps' defensemen rally around Calle Johansson
April 18, 2014, 11:30 am
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A little more than a week ago Capitals assistant coach Calle Johansson was asked about a defensive corps that, under his direction, finished 11th in the conference and 22nd in the NHL in goals allowed [240].

He took the brunt of the blame.

“They’ve got to know what they’re doing, and if they don’t it’s probably my fault and Oatesy’s fault, the coaches’ fault,” Johansson said, referring to a staff headed by Adam Oates. “Then, if the execution is not there, then I can blame it on the players. If they don’t know what they’re doing, then it’s our fault.”

Many of the Capitals’ defensemen read those comments and took it personally, saying the 47-year-old Swede was a beacon of hope in a troubling season.

“I love Calle,” Caps defenseman Jack Hillen said. “I don’t read a lot of media, but when I see some people blaming him for the issues I get really upset.

“I’ve got nothing but respect for Calle and I think he does a great job, He works with me one one-on-one. You guys don’t see it, but all the video we watch together. He understands the player I am and he’s helped me a lot. I got so much better as a player because he helped me.

“The fault of the D corps and the defense in general is not a reflection of Calle and I think he deserves to know that.”

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Actually, the list of defensemen who defended Johansson was long and loud.

“Love Calle,” defenseman Karl Alzner said.  “Love everything about his style of coaching and him as a person. He doesn’t want the blame to be on anyone but himself. He’s that type of guy.

“Of course he’s going to deflect it from the D-men, but there shouldn’t be any blame on him. He gave us every single tool. He gave us freedom, he gave us video. A lot of people are asking questions about our defense and making plays out of the zone. But nothing’s on him. It’s on the D. “

In all fairness to Johansson, the Caps’ all-time leader in games played with 983, he was asked to work with 14 different defensemen this season. Only the Edmonton Oilers used as many players on their blue line.

Of those 14, Connor Carrick, Nate Schmidt, Patrick Wey and Julien Brouillette made their NHL debuts this season. Alex Urbom [14] and Cameron Schilling [1] had combined for just 15 games of NHL experience before this season, and  Tyson Strachan and Steve Oleksy had spent the majority of their pro careers in the minor leagues.

“I thought Calle did a really good job,” said Carrick, a 20-year-old rookie who split time between Washington, Hershey and Team Canada in the World Junior Championships.

“If he had to say something I knew there was a problem. Some coaches I’ve had you’re always hearing something, they’re always in your ear and so when they talk to you about a problem it doesn’t resonate as much because they’re always saying something to you.

“Calle did a really good job helping me stay poised and not over-analyze the game. When he would catch a pattern then we’d talk.

“I thought he did a great job and I absolutely love the guy. I think he’s one of the greatest guys in hockey I’ve ever met.”

John Carlson had a breakout year on the Caps’ blue line, setting career highs in goals [10] and shots [208] and matching a career-high in points [37].

He said one thing Johansson taught him was to race back to get pucks without looking over his shoulder, allowing him more time to see the ice and make plays once he retrieved the puck.

“We really loved having him behind the bench,” Carlson said. “He was calm, cool and collected at all times. He knew when we knew that we made bad plays. He didn't need to get in our face about anything like that.”

Mike Green [minus-16] struggled through an inconsistent season but credited Johansson for being a guiding hand throughout the season. Alzner said he thought Johansson kept the Caps’ defensemen “sane” during a difficult season.

“It was frustrating at times throughout the season,” Green said. “Calle knows the game so well and was really the driving force behind a lot of the D-men to find their roles. It turned out to be a pleasure working with him for the last year and a half.