Nicklas Backstrom should be serenaded with ovations, cheers of his name and probably even “M-V-P” Saturday night at Verizon Center. There’s good reason for that: The Washington Capitals’ best player is not Alex Ovechkin, it’s Backstrom.
“He’s so [instrumental] to this team playing well,” teammate and friend Mike Green said. “With him being out we’ve definitely lost an element of our game that has hurt us, and now that he’s back we’re excited.”
Thirteen goals, 29 assists. Those 42 points still have Backstrom ranked fifth on the team. He missed more than five weeks before Ovechkin passed him as the Caps’ leading scorer.
This is just the second time under coach Dale Hunter that Backstrom, Ovechkin and Green have all played together. They’re 1-0-0 with all three, Jan. 3 vs. the Calgary Flames.
Backstrom is a “natural” on the power play, Hunter said, and the 24-year-old’s return should help that unit. Just his presence on the first line helps everyone else shift down into roles where they’re more comfortable.
Now Brooks Laich is again a third-line center and everything makes sense.
“I think it takes a little bit of pressure off some guys. He not only takes pressure off, but he makes everybody else better,” defenseman Karl Alzner said recently. “That’s very special. Not a whole lot of guys can do that.”
Despite being thrown right back in, Backstrom won’t try to overexert himself, his coach said.
“He knows. He’ll know. He’s a smart guy,” Hunter said. “Some players try to do it all by themselves. He’s a passer; he’ll use his teammates and he’ll be fine.”