RALEIGH, N.C. — It was a simple chip into an open net.
For Washington Capitals rookie Nicklas Backstrom, it qualified as a positive first step. Backstrom tapped home a one-timer on a creative cross-crease pass from Tomas Fleischmann yesterday in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at RBC Center in the preseason opener for both teams.
“I don’t know if I play so good,” Backstrom said. “The only right thing I think I do was the goal. We’ll see if I can do better next time.”
After Chris Bourque managed to work the puck free from behind the net, Fleischmann slipped his stick between his legs and shuffled it from left to right in front of Hurricanes goalie John Grahame. Backstrom redirected the puck into the net before Grahame could react and gave the Caps a 2-0 lead.
“That goal was a gritty goal,” Caps captain Chris Clark said. “It maybe wasn’t his style, but they kept the puck in, they worked it around and they kept coming back. … He was in the right spot.”
It was Backstrom’s first test in a Caps uniform against opposing NHL veterans. He logged 15:34 of ice time while centering a line with Fleischmann and fellow 2006 draftee Francois Bouchard. Backstrom saw time on both the power play and the penalty kill.
He did not start off well in the faceoff circle, losing four of five. But he did go 3-for-4 in the third period and overtime, including a key draw in the defensive end against Erik Cole.
“I thought he played well. We put him out there in a couple of key situations late in the game to take the faceoff,” Caps coach Glen Hanlon said. “We purposely put him out there [against Cole] to see how that would work.”
The Caps led 2-0 after two periods and 3-2 after Ben Clymer stuffed home a rebound with 2:03 left in regulation. But Carolina kept the puck in the Caps’ zone for the next minute, peppering the net with shots until Justin Williams put home a one-timer from out in front of goalie Michal Neuvirth with 60 seconds left.
In overtime, the Caps took a pair of penalties and had to fend off a 5-on-3 for 90 seconds, and things got worse when Dave Steckel’s stick broke. Cole deflected a wrist shot from Eric Staal for his second goal of the afternoon with 48 seconds left.
Backstrom, the fourth pick overall in 2006, is expected to be a key contributor for the Caps and has been pegged as one of the preseason favorites to contend for the Calder Trophy. Those are some pretty hearty expectations for a 19-year-old from Gavle, Sweden, who has three days of NHL training camp experience.
“I am interested to see Backstrom,” Hanlon said before the game. “There is so much hype and expectation of him being a top-six player. That’s a pretty good player. That is a tall responsibility.
“In the very short time I have seen Backstrom, he fits in and can play with the top players. He looks better with this [veteran] group than some of the other kids.”