“How many games has it been?” he asked Friday.
“Obviously, you want to score,” Backstrom said. “You get so frustrated. I’m aware of the situation, but what am I going to do? I can’t just lay down and play dead. You’ve got to keep trying, and eventually, hopefully it’ll come.”
It’s not that Backstrom has played poorly — he has seven assists in the past 10 games while typically facing top competition — but along with setting up other players to score, the Capitals count on his goal-production as well. Coach Barry Trotz has previously said that Backstrom should reach 20 goals every season. Though he’s got 19 points through 25 games played, just three are goals, putting him on the worst points-per-game pace of his career. There’s plenty of time for that to improve, and Backstrom is understandably anxious to end his goal-scoring schneid.
“I’m aware I’ve got to be better there,” Backstrom said. “I’m not a big goal scorer, but at the same time, I’ve got to produce and help out the team to win as many games as possible.”
Backstrom’s production has improved in the four games he and star winger Alex Ovechkin have been reunited. In the 15 games before that change, Backstrom had just four points, all assists. He’s matched that total in the past four games, and he’s come close to snapping his streak. Backstrom had an opportunity to tap in an Ovechkin pass into a half-open net Thursday, but the puck jumped over his stick, the latest example of just how snake-bit he has been lately.
Backstrom hasn’t scored fewer than 18 goals in a full season since his rookie year a decade ago.
“As long as you create chances, that’s a good sign,” Backstrom said. “If you don’t even create chances, then you know you’re struggling for real. I think I’ve just got to stay patient, work hard and do the right things out there. Then hopefully I’ll get rewarded soon.”
Said Trotz: “Nicky’s going to score some goals. History will tell you that. If you talk to him, he might not say he’s thinking about it, but he probably is a little bit. He’s proud, and he’s a productive hockey player. He’s still producing for us, just maybe not on the goal level. … Obviously, when you’ve got Ovi on your one side, he’s trying to get it over to him a lot of the time. But at the same time, Nick shoots it pretty good. Just like any player, when you’re really feeling it, you want to shoot every puck. When you’re not, you’re trying to get maybe a little too fine.”
Backstrom’s rate of taking shots is down from 6.73 per 60 minutes of five-on-five last year to 5.35 this season. He said he could probably use to go to the front of the net more and hope for a rebound. He’d be happy to have a puck go in off his bum if it meant the goal drought was over.
“At this point, I don’t really care,” Backstrom said. “Hopefully someone shoots it at me, and it’ll bounce in.”
Caps to face Bobrovsky
Columbus Blue Jackets netminder Sergei Bobrovsky is 6-1-0 with a 1.13 goals against average and a .961 save percentage in his past seven games. He is a front-runner to win a second straight Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender, and perhaps no one on the Capitals is more familiar with him than defenseman Dmitry Orlov, a close friend of Bobrovsky’s for the past 10 years.
“I just was impressed how [he] works hard,” Orlov said. “After practice, he gets more shots. When everybody come off, some guys still shoot on him and then he’s doing biking for like 30, 40 minutes and same thing after the game. He’s just a professional. … You just need to put more shots on net, but it’s got to be screen or tip — get more bodies at the net. It’s hard to play the goalie when you don’t see the puck.”
Bobrovsky’s numbers against the Capitals aren’t so stellar. Over his career, he’s 6-7-4 with a 3.02 goals against average and a .905 save percentage.
“He moves so well,” Trotz said. “I think he’s really good on his edges; he’s patient. He can contort. What you find with him: He’s not sloppy. Everything’s compact. That’s what I’ve seen the most of. And not a lot of goals go by him.”
Connolly back in
With Washington coming off a 5-2 loss against the Kings, Trotz made some lineup tweaks. Brett Connolly is back in after being a healthy scratch for the past two games, and Tyler Graovac is now out. Trotz also reconfigured a third line that he wasn’t pleased with in the Los Angeles game.
“He’s trying so hard that I think he starts to lose his details,” Trotz said of Connolly. “I said just to control the emotion, control the energy, control the focus. Just play. We changed the lines up obviously. I didn’t like the [Lars] Eller-[Devante] Smith-Pelly-Gravo line. They weren’t — they got crushed by the numbers. It wasn’t a good mix,so we changed it up. We’ll see if this new mix will help both lines.”
Here’s what the Capitals’ lineup is expected to look like against the Blue Jackets:
Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana-Evgeny Kuznetsov-T. J. Oshie
Chandler Stephenson-Lars Eller-Brett Connolly
Devante Smith-Pelly-Jay Beagle-Alex Chiasson
Scratched: Tyler Graovac
Brooks Orpik-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Christian Djoos-Madison Bowey
Scratched: Taylor Chorney
Braden Holtby (starter)
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