For those who routinely watch the Washington Capitals, they know just how good Nicklas Backstrom is at hockey. Just in case anyone forgot, Nicky took care of that quickly on Saturday night as he scored a goal and set up two others in his season debut, a 4-1 Caps victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. Backstrom’s performance in his first game back even impressed his head coach.
“A guy who hasn’t played any exhibition games and comes into the National Hockey League, in a fast game, against a fast team, and he looks like he didn’t miss a beat – we realize how good he is….it looked pretty easy for him,” said Caps Coach Barry Trotz following the win.
Saturday’s game really was as one-sided as it gets in terms of scoring chances. Washington was all over a Carolina club that played on Friday night and if not for Cam Ward, it could’ve easily been five or six to nothing after two periods. Amazingly the 2006 Stanley Cup Champion goalie stopped 26 of 27 Capitals shots through forty minutes and Washington was forced to sweat this one out a bit in the final frame.
T.J. Oshie, Backstrom, John Carlson, and Alex Ovechkin all scored against Carolina with the last three coming in the third period. The Caps first and third goals were on the power play, the only two opportunities they received all evening. Carolina had four power plays, including a 38 second two man advantage in the middle stanza, but Washington killed that sequence off. As is often the case, a team that fails to score on a two man advantage usually loses the hockey game.
With Backstrom back in the lineup, the Capitals moved Andre Burakovsky down to the fourth line. The 20 year old forward had struggled a bit at center in the first three games and with Marcus Johansson playing so well, #65 was the odd top six forward out. As I blogged after Thursday night’s win, the key will be for Burakovsky to just keep working hard and keep his confidence level up. He will be a big part of this team this season and the Caps will need him in the playoffs, when things really matter.
As for Johansson, well he was dynamite despite being held without a point. MJ90 has been doing a great job of going to the net and creating screens and the Caps don’t score goals two and three without “Jojo” doing just that. Marcus also had some quality scoring attempts in the game, but Ward was very strong on this night.
Oshie now has two power play goals and he is a huge upgrade over Troy Brouwer as the man in the middle with the man advantage. Eventually teams will have to shift more attention to him, which will open things up for Ovechkin and the others. Speaking of Ovechkin, he now has three goals in three games and he, Oshie, and Evgeny Kuznetsov were really good as a first unit, once again. Backstrom, Johansson, and Justin Williams formed a potent second line. Basically, trying to stop the Caps is going to be a lot harder this season now that GM Brian MacLellan has upgraded the skill on the top two lines.
On defense, the top two pairs were solid, but the third defensive pair is still working through things. Dmitry Orlov only logged 13:36 and Taylor Chorney played 15:31. Against an Auston Matthews sweepstakes team like Carolina, you’d like to see that pairing get more ice time, but until they earn it, Coach Trotz can’t risk victories for the team in order to develop that new duo.
Overall though, the Capitals look like a really strong team. Their three wins have come against hockey teams that played the night before, but you can only face the opponents as they are scheduled. Now at 3-1 after four home games, they head out to Western Canada for a three games in four nights road swing that starts on Tuesday night in Calgary (9 pm on CSN). This will be a good measuring stick to see how improved they are, last season the Caps went 1-2 on this trip with the lone victory against the Flames.
Notes: Braden Holtby made 18 saves. He had a scary moment in the middle period when the Canes had a two man advantage and his helmet was knocked off. Somehow the officials took several seconds to blow what should’ve been an immediate whistle and luckily a shot on net went over a covered up Holtby…Carlson led the Caps in ice time once again, at 23:26…Oshie now has two goals and two assists in the four games…the Caps outshot Carolina 34-19, Oshie led the Caps with six shots on goal…Brooks Orpik had five hits while Ovechkin had four…the Caps lost the faceoff battle, 31-29.