Backstrom Scores in Debut, but Capitals Lose in OT

Carolina's Noah Babin, right, unsuccessfully tries to push the puck past Capitals goalie Brent Johnson, who faced 12 shots but did not allow a goal.
Carolina's Noah Babin, right, unsuccessfully tries to push the puck past Capitals goalie Brent Johnson, who faced 12 shots but did not allow a goal. (By Gerry Broome -- Associated Press)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 17, 2007

RALEIGH, N.C., Sept. 16 -- Nicklas Backstrom was among the first players to emerge from a Washington Capitals pregame meeting Sunday afternoon. Some of them seemed nervous, others appeared apprehensive. Backstrom's eyes, though, were fixed straight ahead.

He was the picture of focus in the moments leading up to his NHL preseason debut -- and he didn't disappoint once the puck was dropped.

Backstrom, the Capitals' No. 4 overall draft pick in 2006, showed flashes of his vast potential and scored a goal in Washington's 4-3 overtime loss to Carolina at RBC Center. He also displayed the defensive discipline that has team officials hoping he'll develop into a two-way dynamo, much like fellow Swede Peter Forsberg.

Backstrom's goal came at 8 minutes 13 seconds of the second period with the Capitals on the power play. The 19-year-old center crashed the crease, took a slick pass from Tomas Fleischmann and banged the puck past Carolina goaltender John Grahame to put the visitors ahead 2-0. Fleischmann had reached between his legs with his stick to flick the puck over to his linemate.

"It was a very fast game, I think," Backstrom said. "There was a lot of skating. I was pretty tired."

He played a total of 15:39 and was credited with two shots on goal and one hit. He won four of nine faceoffs, though he did outmuscle Hurricanes veteran Erik Cole on a faceoff deep in the Capitals' end while his team clung to that two-goal lead.

"The only right thing I felt like I did was the goal," he said. "I didn't pass much. I will do better next game."

The Capitals' two-goal edge didn't last. Starting goaltender Brent Johnson (12 saves) was replaced by 19-year-old Michal Neuvirth at the start of the third period. The Hurricanes, who had several key players in the lineup such as Cole, Eric Staal, Justin Williams and Cory Stillman, immediately cranked up their intensity. They peppered Neuvirth with 23 shots in the third period and overtime and eventually prevailed when Cole connected on a five-on-three power play with 48 seconds remaining in the extra session.

The defeat put a damper on Backstrom's debut and he was hard on himself afterward. But he also said he was relieved to get the first one out of the way.

"It was what I expected," he said. "I don't know if I played too well. The only thing I did well was the goal. I will do better next time. I need to be better on everything. The next game is going to be easier, I think, because I will be more relaxed."

Coach Glen Hanlon was pleased with Backstrom's play.

"I thought he played well," Hanlon said. "We put him out in some key situations late in the game. He scored a goal. And his attention to detail is, well, it's clear why he was a highly drafted player."

Capitals Notes: The Capitals' top offensive players -- Alex Ovechkin, Michael Nylander, Alexander Semin and Viktor Kozlov -- did not make the trip. . . . Defenseman Mike Green and forward Ben Clymer also scored for Washington. Clymer dropped his gloves and squared off with Hurricanes center Nicolas Blanchard in the third period. The two battled to a draw. . . . The Hurricanes outshot the visitors, 31-27.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company