TAMPA, Fla. | Nicklas Backstrom didn’t become an NHL superstar and, this season, the Washington Capitals’ MVP, by expecting little of himself. In his first game back from a concussion that caused him to miss almost three months, Backstrom was critical of himself.
“I was a little rusty, but I can play a little bit better,” he said after Monday’s morning skate at Tampa Bay Times Forum. “I think everything can be a little better, especially positioning. I felt like I was running around there.”
Backstrom’s teammates chuckled at that. Most guys wouldn’t look anything like the 24-year-old star center did Saturday night in his triumphant return.
“I thought he looked pretty smooth out there, pretty comfortable,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “With him in the lineup, it makes us a much better team, whether he feels that he’s a hundred percent or not. You’re going to have a little bit of rust and the guys didn’t notice it at all, but he’s going to have high standards for himself.”
Backstrom played over 19 minutes against the Montreal Canadiens and will probably see a similar output, if not more, at the Tampa Bay Lightning. He said he was a little sore Sunday, but Dale Hunter said Backstrom going out and stretching Sunday allowed him to progress along without any issues.
“Nicky’s a proud guys and for him to go out there and play the minutes he did after being out for so long is a credit to him, I expect him to get better every game,” the Caps’ coach said.
Backstrom again admitted he was a bit heistant about taking hits against Montreal, having missed 40 games following Rene Bourque’s cheap-shot elbow to the head. But he got knocked around, and did some hitting, early, which helped.
“It wasn’t bad,” Backstrom said. “I was a little worried before the game but afterwards it felt good. No problems at all, so that’s good for me.”
Backstrom registered a minus-1 rating and was held without a point in his return, despite his Caps teammates at times trying to force-feed him the puck in front. But his hand-eye coordination didn’t seem to be a problem, despite his own criticism.
“That’s good if he’s critical because I thought he was pretty good. He’s so good along the wall, little nifty, tricky plays where he lifts a stick and pulls a puck out or slides one through feet or a stick and then makes a pass off that,” forward Brooks Laich said. “His game there is so incredible. I thought he was good at it the other night. I saw him make a couple plays that you’re used to seeing Nicky make.
“And if he thought he wasn’t at his best, then it puts a smile on my face because he’s going to be even better.”