Ovechkin, Backstrom Starting to Show Some Long-Awaited Chemistry

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 27, 2008

ATLANTA, Jan. 26 -- Two summers ago at the NHL entry draft, Alex Ovechkin stepped to the podium and announced the Washington Capitals' pick, fulfilling a role usually reserved for general managers.

After calling Nicklas Backstrom's name, Ovechkin greeted his newest teammate on the stage with a hearty handshake and a single word: "Welcome."

The symbolism -- the Capitals' best goal scorer selecting the center team officials hoped would feed him the puck for many years to come -- was hard to overlook that evening in Vancouver.

It's impossible to ignore this weekend in Atlanta, where Backstrom played in the NHL's YoungStars event Saturday while Ovechkin is set to represent Washington for the second consecutive year in Sunday's All-Star Game at Philips Arena.

"I remember years ago hearing about Brian Trottier and Mike Bossy, and the friendship they had," General Manager George McPhee said, referring to the former New York Islanders greats. "That seems to be the case with Nick and Alex. They have the chemistry that so many of the great combinations have."

Since becoming full-time linemates in mid-December, Ovechkin, 22, and Backstrom, 20, have blossomed into one of the league's most potent one-two punches and are a big reason the Capitals find themselves one point behind the Carolina Hurricanes for the Southeast Division lead, three months after sinking to the bottom of the standings.

Ovechkin and Backstrom also have become tight off the ice -- something both players credit with facilitating their understanding of one another on it.

"I draft him," Ovechkin said with a smile over sushi at a downtown Atlanta restaurant on Friday. "We are young. We know we are going to be here a long time. We have to make our relationship good."

Said Backstrom, "If you are friends off the ice, you know the guy on the ice."

But the chemistry wasn't immediate. Even after Coach Bruce Boudreau put Backstrom on Ovechkin's line on a permanent basis, they appeared out of sync some nights.

Crossing passes would just miss. Drop passes arrived a split second too late.

Then it finally happened: The powerful Russian and the patient Swede began to click.

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