- The Washington Times - Monday, April 15, 2013

Nicklas Backstrom looked up and saw Alex Ovechkin across the ice. It didn’t matter that three defenders were between them.

The puck bounced into the offensive zone and Ovechkin got it on his stick. Seconds later it was in the net, and the Washington Capitals star jumped into the glass at Verizon Center. Just another goal by No. 8, Alex Ovechkin, assisted by No. 19, Nicklas Backstrom.

“They see each other on the ice all the time,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “Nicky’s got great vision out there. He knows where Ovi’s going to be. He knows his tendencies over the last six or seven years they’ve played together.”

While Ovechkin has gotten most of the credit for the Caps’ recent run of success, Backstrom deserves much more than he’s receiving. Of the captain’s 18 goals in the past 17 games, Backstrom assisted 13 of them.

It’s no coincidence that the Caps are 12-2-1 in their past 15 games since Ovechkin and Backstrom were reunited.

“I think Ovi’s been unreal, but that comes with Nicky. He’s been unreal as well,” center Mathieu Perreault said. “They work really good together, and when both guys are going, this is when we’re good.”

When Ovechkin and Backstrom are producing like this, the Caps are almost unstoppable. Backstrom has 13 assists during the Caps’ seven-game winning streak and at least one in each game heading into Tuesday’s contest against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“He’s feeling the flow right now,” Brouwer said. “He’s smooth out there, he’s got confidence oozing out of him right now. He knows where guys are on the ice. You’re seeing the vintage Nick Backstrom from a couple years ago when he was playing so well and the guy that I love to watch on the highlights.”

Backstrom didn’t have many highlights early in the season. The 25-year-old Swede had no points in four of his first five games, yet coach Adam Oates didn’t express any concern.

He knew Backstrom would get it together, and this recent stretch is evidence.

“Obviously it’s better than in the beginning,” Backstrom said of his game. “With us winning, I think everybody gets confidence from that, and our line has been playing pretty good lately and hopefully we can keep this rolling.”

The Caps are rolling because that top line of Marcus Johansson, Backstrom and Ovechkin has carried them. Ovechkin and Backstrom have led the charge, but Oates has been insistent on crediting Johansson, who has three goals and 12 assists in 15 games since joining that line.

“It’s really hard to be a two-man team in this league nowadays the way teams track and play D-zone coverage,” Oates said. “You need all three guys, and Marcus coming back from his injury has really helped.”

Recalibrating the chemistry between Ovechkin and Backstrom helped, too. Many of Washington’s wins over the past several years were built on Backstrom and Ovechkin. Sometimes it’s hard to figure why players have an inherent connection, but the Caps’ franchise cornerstones have had it for a long time.

Ovechkin knows Backstrom will find him wherever he is.

“That’s what I want [as] a winger,” Ovechkin said. “I want the puck when I have speed and when I have opportunity to do something. … He’s not going to wait half a second longer, he’s just going to give me [the puck] right away.”

Finishing is half the job, and Ovechkin is doing that right now.

Ovechkin has 18 goals in 17 games, and Backstrom has created even more scoring chances along the way. But the playmaking center Perreault called “underrated” knows what happens when he sets up Ovechkin.

“It doesn’t really matter where you give him the puck on the ice,” Backstrom said. “He’s going to get a good shot, a chance to score, wherever it is.”

Sometimes it takes a transcendent pass to get Ovechkin the puck, and that’s what Backstrom is good for. Oates said Backstrom is “absolutely” playing better than he was at the start of the season.

“No question,” Oates said. “He’s way more involved in the game, and I think that’s a product of the chemistry.”

The Caps rode Backstrom and Ovechkin’s chemistry to five straight playoff appearances and are on their way to a sixth if their performances continue.

“You need your best players to be your best players,” Brouwer said. “Your supporting players can only take you so far.”

Ovechkin is getting the lion’s share of the credit, and in leading the NHL with 27 goals that’s justified. But Backstrom’s contributions shouldn’t be overlooked, even if that’s what he wants.

“He knows that Ovi’s the face,” Brouwer said. “He knows that Ovi’s the guy that gets more attention and more recognition. But he’s happy kind of being in the background doing his thing. When you leave him alone, I think he’s at his happiest and he just enjoys himself.”



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