Johnson skates forward to fill Poulin void


Capitals defenseman Jim Johnson will be playing left wing beside center Dale Hunter and right wing Kelly Miller tonight against the Quebec Nordiques.

Is this any way to go into a showdown with the Nordiques, the team with the best winning percentage in the NHL?

"It's not my position, but like I said, I'll do anything to help the team," said Johnson. "We're in need at that position and I feel comfortable there, but it's not natural for me. I've never played the position except for a week-and-a-half ago against the Rangers."

And then it wasn't for an entire game. But Johnson held his own against the New York Rangers in a game the Capitals won, 4-1 -- although at one point the left wing was skating backward, like the defenseman he is, instead of turning to skate full speed ahead.

But Washington coach Jim Schoenfeld said he is going to play Johnson at that position tonight "because he's capable" and because he needs a strong performance from the Hunter line, which is the team's top checking line and the line that will have to put the brakes on the likes of the Nordiques' Wendel Clark, Owen Nolan and Joe Sakic.

Johnson "is bigger, stronger, faster" and more used to the NHL than anyone Schoenfeld could call up from the Portland Pirates, the Capitals' American Hockey League affiliate. And Schoenfeld doesn't have any other choices on the Capitals' roster.

Veteran Dave Poulin, who usually plays left wing on the Hunter-centered line, is out for at least two weeks with an aggravated hamstring.

Yesterday, after the Capitals returned from Tampa Bay, where they beat the Lightning, 4-2, Wednesday night, they learned that right wing Keith Jones, who has been playing with foot and rib injuries, will be sidelined for at least two weeks to give his ailments time to heal.

During the past 10 days, every time Schoenfeld has tried to scratch Jones because of injuries, Jones has persuaded his coach to let him play.

Yesterday, Schoenfeld said there would be no more of that. It is important for the Capitals to have all their injured players fully recovered by the end of April, given that the playoffs begin the first week of May.

"I think Keith will take a more educated approach this time," said Schoenfeld, when asked if Jones was likely to ask for another reprieve. "He's not playing for two weeks, but during that time we're going to work him, keep his cardiovascular up high and enhance his lung capacity."

With Johnson moving to the forward position, the Caps called up defenseman Ken Klee from Portland.

Continuing the interchangeable parts theme, goaltender Olie Kolzig, who has played little more than one period since rookie goalie Jim Carey (10-2-2, with a 1.61 GAA) arrived on the scene a month ago, is going to Portland to play two games for the Pirates Saturday and Sunday.

That means, with goalie Rick Tabaracci already on loan to Chicago of the International Hockey League, goalie Byron Dafoe will be recalled from Portland as backup to Carey until again changing places with Kolzig on Monday.

"My agent didn't want me to go to Portland, because of the differences in the contract [injury protection], but I'm a pretty competitive guy, so I need to play," Kolzig said. "I went to [general manager] David Poile and suggested that I go there and play a couple games."

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