Backstrom is Back

Posted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel

Sunday was an off-day for the Capitals, and today they were back on the ice at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex, a day ahead of Tuesday night’s home ice contest against the Dallas Stars. During the team’s Monday practice session, word came from the NHL offices that Caps center Nicklas Backstrom had been named the league’s No. 3 star for the week ending Nov. 6. This is the sixth time in his career that Backstrom has earned one of the league’s stars of the week designations; he has been named the No. 1 star twice and the No. 3 on four occasions. Backstrom had six points (three goals, three assists) in three games last week. He is currently riding a run of four straight multiple-point games and he has had eight such contests in a dozen games this season. With 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) this season, Backstrom is tied for third in the league in scoring. With 10 power play points (one goal, nine assists) he stands second in the league in extra-man scoring. “You can see how he’s playing right now,” says longtime Backstrom linemate and Caps captain Alex Ovechkin. “He feels unbelievable. He scores goals, he makes nice plays and I think he deserves it.” This is Backstrom’s fifth season in the league, and this represents his hottest start. Backstrom had zero goals through a dozen games in each of his first two seasons; he had five points at that stage of the campaign as a freshman and four as a sophomore. He had 16 points (three goals, 13 assists) after a dozen games in 2009-10 and 10 points (four goals, six assists) at the same juncture last season. With 34 shots on goal through 12 games this season, he has five more shots at this stage than he has ever hand after a dozen games; he had 29 shots on goal at this point in 2009-10. “I haven’t really noticed anything different,” says Caps coach Bruce Boudreau when asked about Bcakstrom, “except maybe he’s shooting a little more. But I haven’t even checked the statistics to see if he is or if he’s not. Nicky – whether he’s scoring or whether he’s not scoring – is such a contributor at both ends of the ice that you never know as a coach whether he’s playing a bad game or a good game if you just look at offensive statistics, because he’s always doing the right things.” Moreover, Backstrom is doing more with less. He is averaging just 18:01 per night in ice time this season, the lowest figure of his NHL career. He skated an average of 19 minutes as a rookie, 19:57 as a sophomore, 20:27 in 2009-10 and 20:36 last season. I asked him about his swift start in the wake of Saturday’s loss to the Islanders. Typically, he downplayed his performance and then lamented the team’s loss after it held a 2-0 lead. “We’re playing good on the power play and we’re scoring on our opportunities,” he said on Saturday, brushing aside his own personal accomplishments. He was only slightly more forthcoming today, but he’s always been the humble sort. “Scoring points feels good,” says Backstrom. “But I think we’ve gotten to another level as a team. Me too, I think.” First and foremost, Backstrom is a playmaker. Since he started his NHL career in 2007-08, only three players in the NHL – Henrik Sedin, Joe Thornton and Martin St. Louis – have more assists than Backstrom’s 249. Backstrom notched a career-high 33 goals in 2009-10 with a sparkling 14.9% shooting pct. Injuries and shooting pct. drop to 8.9% last season resulted in a dip to 18 goals and a career-low 65 points. Back on the beam in 2011-12, Backstrom is shooting the puck more this season despite getting less ice time than ever before. “You do tell guys a lot to shoot more,” says Boudreau, “but it’s ingrained in their DNA. Some guys are just great passers. They see the ice so well and they’re so unselfish with the puck that they probably have to tell themselves, ‘Shoot more, shoot more.’ Because it’s not a natural thing. I don’t know if that’s the case with Nick, I just know that’s the case with a lot of tremendous passers.” Among all players who have ever played as many as 300 games in the NHL, Backstrom is tied for 14th -- and second among all active players to Jaromir Jagr's .75 -- with an average of .74 assists per game. He is a brilliant playmaker with excellent vision on the ice. And, like the world’s great sous chefs, Backstrom boasts a deft touch with the sauce. A former Cap who stands ahead of Backstrom on that list once told me: “I think passing – like shooting and skating – is something that you develop as a kid. It became my forte and I always would have rather passed it than shot it. You develop a style and you develop a chemistry with people and it’s just something that I have always done.” Those are the words of Adam Oates, whose .81 assists per game are tied for sixth in NHL history. Backstrom is a few weeks shy of his 24th birthday, and he’s still got plenty of time on his side. Oates, who should be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame, finished with 1.079 career assists, sixth on the NHL’s all-time list in that category. When Oates was 24 years old, he had all of 11 career assists.

next up:

Caps Swap Bouchard to Rangers for Kundratek

January 14, 2013

Washington consummated a minor league swap with the New York Rangers on Tuesday. The Capitals sent forward Francois Bouchard to the Rangers in exchange for defenseman Tomas Kundratek. Bouchard will report to the Rangers’ AHL farm team in Hartford while Kundratek will join the AHL Hershey Bears.

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