Be honest. If someone had asked you which of Washington's two Swedish centers would have four points in five games during the first round against New York, you would have said Nicklas Backstrom, right? Yeah, me too, but it was Marcus Johansson who helped the Caps dispatch the Rangers in the first round. That begs the question: Is Backstrom in a slump?
Backstrom last scored a goal on March 22 and has since taken 36 shots without lighting the lamp, so no one would blame you if you started to panic . But the slump could be more a result of usage than anything else.
Since the beginning of the season, Coach Boudreau has called upon his premier center to take the lion's share of the defensive zone faceoffs, but offensive players like Backstrom thrive when given offensive zone starts. Zone starts are simply a tally of every faceoff the player is on the ice for. Neutral ice faceoffs are not counted because they don't inherently give an advantage to either side. Offensive zone percentage (EV OffZ%) is expressed as a percentage of offensive zone draws compared to offensive and defensive faceoffs that occur during even strength.
Players who consistently begin shifts in the offensive zone typically put up better boxcar stats (goals, assists and points) than those who don't, and Backstrom is no different. When he's been given more than 50 percent of those starts (EV OffZ%) during a game this season, he has seen his production triple:
|50% or over||43||1.2|
Coach Bruce Boudreau was forced to rely even more heavily on his top pivot when the club traded away faceoff specialist David Steckel, meaning even less offensive zone time for Backstrom that is continuing into the postseason.
|Before Steckel trade||48.6%|
|After Steckel trade||40.5%|
|Round 1 of playoffs||45.3%|
Boudreau is relying on Boyd Gordon to take some of the pressure off, starting the fourth liner in the defensive zone 87 percent of the time, but unless centers Jason Arnott or Matt Hendricks pitch in, the Caps may not see much production from Backstrom the rest of the way.