The reunion of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom was probably inevitable. The two have complemented each other for eight seasons, with Ovechkin arguably the lead’s most prolific scorer and Backstrom one of its best passers, last year’s league leader in assists playing beside the league leader in goals.
But at the start of the season they were separated, with Backstrom centering the second line. That was done to ease Backstrom back into playing after he missed the first three games because of an offseason hip surgery and to have young center Evgeny Kuznetsov develop chemistry on the top line, giving the Capitals a one-two punch up the middle.
For 16 games, there didn’t appear to be a need to return Backstrom to the top line, but with Washington (11-4-1) coming off an overtime loss and a four-day break between games, Capitals Coach Barry Trotz flipped Kuznetsov and Backstrom in practice on Monday, and Backstrom will be the first-line center for the first time this season against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night.
“They’ve had a lot of chemistry and they’ve had a lot of good play together,” Trotz said. “Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see because I haven’t used them together at all this season other than power play.”
Trotz said the difference between Backstrom and Kuznetsov is that Backstrom distributes the puck faster, often through the neutral zone, while Kuznetsov skates with it more and then passes in the offensive zone. For Ovechkin, playing with Backstrom is second nature, but T.J. Oshie’s time on the ice with Backstrom has been limited this season.
“We have chemistry,” Ovechkin said. “I don’t think it’s going to be problem to have the same chemistry that we had before, so it’s all good.”
Said Oshie: “We’ve already been talking quite a bit about what we need to do and some automatics that will make us play a little faster, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Backstrom has earned an assist on 174 of Ovechkin’s goals. Ovechkin’s next goal will be a memorable one: He’s tied with Sergei Fedorov for the most goals scored by a Russian. Twice it seemed he had scored, but both goals were disallowed after coach’s challenge reviews.
If Backstrom were to assist on Ovechkin’s next goal, it would be the second time the Swede has helped a Russian set that record. Backstrom assisted on Fedorov’s 474th career goal on Oct. 25, 2008, when Fedorov surpassed Alexander Mogilny to become the NHL’s all-time goal scoring leader among Russian players.
“I remember now that you told me,” Backstrom said. “It was probably [power play], right? PP goal, yeah. I remember he was proud about it. … To be honest with you, I don’t think about it. If it happens, it’s good for [Ovechkin]. I’m happy for him. He scored two goals already and both coach’s challenge. I feel bad for him. At the same time, I know it’s going to come pretty soon.”
Here is the expected Capitals lineup against the Detroit Red Wings:
Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-T.J. Oshie
Marcus Johansson-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Andre Burakovsky
Jason Chimera-Jay Beagle-Justin Williams
Brooks Laich-Michael Latta-Tom Wilson
Nate Schmidt-John Carlson
Karl Alzner-Matt Niskanen
Dmitry Orlov-Taylor Chorney
Brooks Orpik (lower-body injury)