Nicklas Backstrom has been hard on himself since returning from a 40-game absence because of a concussion. His timing has been off and as recently as Friday, he acknowledged that he was over-thinking passes.
On Saturday at New York, though, Backstrom showed his old form in only his fourth game back in the mix. Backstrom finished with a goal, an assist, three shots on goal and won five of 12 faceoffs in 18 minutes 24 seconds of ice time.
“I think it’s good for your confidence, obviously,” Backstrom said. “The first three games has been a little up and down for me personally, but it felt better tonight. We have power-play goal there and then nice pass from [Alexander Semin] on my goal there.”
Backstrom’s goal was a wicked snap shot that beat Henrik Lundqvist glove side to put Washington up 4-0 early in the second period. But in addition to that tally and his assist, the 24-year-old center’s passes were more on the mark and his puck control seemed as though he never missed time.
“We’ve all seen that it was Nicky’s best game for us. It doesn’t just happen,” Coach Dale Hunter said. “He got his hands back and saucered the puck, you know, without bobbling to [John Carlson] for the one-timer, and then the great shot. Definitely, you know, he wants to play like that all the time, but it takes time coming back from injury.”
Back on Feb. 27, the day of the trade deadline, General Manager George McPhee said he believed the Capitals could “beat anybody in this conference” with Backstrom in the fold once again.
Well, if his performance Saturday is any indication, Backstrom is truly back. In addition to the points and putting his offensive skill on display, Backstrom got involved in a bit of a shoving match with Rangers captain Ryan Callahan.
“Nicky’s never shied away from contact,” Brooks Laich said. “He’s very solid on his skates and a lot of times surprises guys. He can lay a shoulder into somebody and knock guys off the puck. So he plays in those dirty areas in the corners and the scrums. He’s just very slippery and very hard to hit.”
Alex Ovechkin also said he believes Backstrom returning to form can help give the Capitals an edge.
“It’s good sign for us and bad sign for different teams,” Ovechkin said. “I think he’s move well. He was sharp today, control the puck well. It’s good thing to see he went to the battle and nothing serious happened. For him mentally it’s very important and for us as well.”