OTTAWA — T.J. Oshie was the goal scorer, but Nicklas Backstrom was the center of attention for a change. The four Washington Capitals on the ice with Backstrom engulfed him with celebratory head taps, immediately aware of the significance of his latest assist.
He became the first player in franchise history to reach 500 assists, a milestone for the player who has helped create so many for his teammates. His setup for Oshie lifted Washington to a 1-0 lead less than two minutes into the game, and that score stood for the rest of the contest against the Ottawa Senators, giving the Capitals their fifth consecutive win.
“It feels a lot better when we’re winning than if I would’ve done it and we lose,” Backstrom said. “So, yeah, I’ll remember this.”
Goaltender Braden Holtby recorded his second straight shutout, his fifth of the season, stopping 30 shots while the Capitals’ offense struggled to generate many scoring opportunities.
On a rush into the offensive zone, Backstrom calmly passed the puck to Oshie as he was skating into the left faceoff circle, and Oshie one-timed it past goaltender Mike Condon. Oshie triumphantly skated into the end boards, Backstrom trailing with his arms raised. But as the goal circle started to form, the other three Capitals on the ice joining them, it was Backstrom in the middle.
“He’s made a lot of people look good over the years — 500 times, you could say,” said Nate Schmidt, who had the second assist on Oshie’s goal. “He’s a tremendous player.”
The less-flashy complement to star winger Alex Ovechkin for his entire career, Backstrom has often shied from the spotlight as Ovechkin has relished it. Backstrom has assisted on 201 of Ovechkin’s 445 goals since the 2007-08 season, Backstrom’s rookie year. Ovechkin got to assist on the celebration, snagging the puck Oshie scored as a keepsake.
Typically reserved for the goal scorer, Backstrom was first in the line that skated by the bench for fist bumps. Ovechkin tossed the commemorative puck to an equipment staffer on the bench, then gave Backstrom another rub on the head.
“It’s been impressive,” Ovechkin said. “I’ve been a part of it since day one. It’s nice to be around his personality and him as a player.”
Backstrom is the second-fastest Swede to reach the 500-assist mark — only Peter Forsberg was faster — and he’s the third-fastest among active players. As Backstrom approached the milestone, his teammates gushed about how underrated of a player he is, that Backstrom is as smart on the ice as he is skilled.
“He’s pretty elite and real special,” Coach Barry Trotz said. “Guys, they all love him in the room and what he does for our hockey team is huge.”
Once the Capitals got the lead just 1:38 into the game, the offense flatlined. The Capitals had scored five goals with contributions throughout the lineup against the Columbus Blue Jackets just two days earlier. But on Saturday night, neither team was able to generate much in the offensive zone, the play clogged up in the neutral zone. Ovechkin said it was “a boring game.” With 3:29 left in the second period, the Capitals recorded their 10th shot on goal.
They finished with 13 through 40 minutes, tied for the fewest they’ve had through two periods this season.
Oshie suffered an undisclosed upper-body injury in the second period on a power play, and he didn’t return to the game. Trotz said after the game that he didn’t have an update on Oshie. He missed seven games earlier this season with a shoulder injury.
As the Capitals struggled to get their offense going, Holtby was the best player on the ice, saving 21 shots through the first two periods as Washington clung to its 1-0 lead. He got the shutout in the Capitals’ 5-0 victory Thursday, and while the team didn’t generate as much scoring Saturday, Holtby’s play was consistent. This marked the first time Holtby has recorded back-to-back shutouts in his career.
“We’ve played a lot of different styles here lately, and I think that we’ve won games a lot of different ways,” Schmidt said. “That’s a sign of team trending in the right direction. I think we’ve done a really good job of limiting opportunities. I think that’s really what it comes down to, and Holts is one of the top goaltenders in the league.”