In the Capitals’ Friday night tilt on December 20, 2019, Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom will play in their 900th NHL regular season game together, all with Washington. In addition to the 900 regular season games and 123 playoff games that they have played in together during their time in the District, the dynamic duo also played together for Moscow Dynamo in the Kontinental Hockey League during the 2012-13 season lockout.
With the start of the season delayed due to the lockout, Ovechkin signed a contract with Moscow Dynamo, the team with which he had played 153 games prior to joining the Washington Capitals, and would play with Dynamo for the duration of the lockout.
As the lockout persisted for the next month, Backstrom also signed a contract with Moscow Dynamo, a move initially reported by the Swedish news source, svt.se on October 18, 2012, confirmed on October 19, 2012, and then reported by the Washington Post.
The move to the KHL for the lockout seemed to be a longtime coming, with Backstrom revealing in an interview with SVT Sport, “Ovechkin’s been calling since he came to Moscow. It’ll be fun. I’m leaving today.”
Backstrom’s first game with Moscow Dynamo came on October 22, 2012, with he and Ovechkin playing on a line with Leo Komarov, and Backstrom recording an assist. Prior to Backstrom joining Dynamo Moscow, Ovechkin had already played in 12 games.
Initially, Backstrom chose to wear No. 99 for Dynamo, since his usual No. 19 worn with the Capitals, was already being used by another player, as were 91 and 9. The selection of No. 99 caused great outcry about the number had been famously worn by “The Great One” Wayne Gretzky and had been in default retirement throughout the hockey world since it was retired by the NHL. Backstrom donned No. 99 for two games before he changed his number to No. 69. Backstrom and Ovechkin played together for two games before Ovechkin became sick with bronchitis and subsequently missed the next three games.
In the first game of Ovechkin’s absence, Backstrom scored his first KHL goal on October 29:
After Dynamo’s game on November 2, the KHL took a break for an international tournament and Dynamo did play in game action again until November 14, when Ovechkin and Backstrom were reunited in a game in which Backstrom recorded a hat trick.
In a wide-ranging interview with Russia Beyond on November 24, 2012, at the Dynamo facility, Backstrom talked about multiple aspects of his decision to sign with Dynamo, including the timing of his decision and KHL game atmospheres among others.
Backstrom first confirmed that Ovechkin was the one to convince him to play with Dynamo during the NHL labor lockout, saying:
“…He called me and asked whether I wanted to play for Dynamo. I was glad he called. But I had never played for a Russian club before, so I thought about it for about two weeks. When I realized that the NHL season may not start for a while, I decided to accept the offer. So, Alex was the first one to call. He also translated during the negotiations.”
Backstrom also added, in regards to his and Ovechkin’s relationship on and off the ice:
“We played in the same line for Washington for five years. Naturally, we spent lots of time together off the ice, too – we went to restaurants together and so on. We have our personal lives and interests, but we are quite close.”
Backstrom was also asked about his number change from 99 to 69, admitting that the response from fans on his decision to wear the number made famous by Gretzky played a part in his decision to finally switch,
“In a way it was. You can understand the fans. To be honest, it never really occurred to me. When I realized, I tried to change the number. But it was too late, I was signed under this number and I had to play a couple of games with number 99 on my jersey. They’ve changed it now. I’d just like to forget about it and never talk about it again.”, adding when it was pointed out that Gretzky’s number is not as iconic in Russia, “I know, but I still felt bad about it”.
When asked about the low-attendance numbers of the KHL compared to the NHL as well as the playing style, Backstrom responded by saying,
“It’s hard. There are three teams in Moscow, and people work late and often can’t get to the arenas in time because of the traffic…In many ways, it is very similar to the NHL. The main difference is the size of the rink. It is smaller in the NHL, and the game is slightly faster there.”
Backstrom and Ovechkin continued to play with one another in Moscow until December 26, when Backstrom was injured in a game against Slovan Bratislava. The injury was reported to be a neck bruise and that there was no timetable for Backstrom’s return. However, it would prove to be Backstrom’s final game with Dynamo. Ovechkin would play in another three more games for Dynamo before the KHL broke for another international tournament. During the same time frame, the NHL and the NHL Player’s Association settled on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) and NHL players returned to North America for their much-delayed NHL training camps.
Ovechkin and Backstrom played 16 games together with Moscow Dynamo during the lockout and in that time, Ovechkin recorded 12 goals and 13 assists for 25 points overall, while Backstrom had nine goals and 14 assists. Individually during their time with Dynamo, Ovechkin scored 19 goals and added 21 assists in 31 games, while Backstrom scored 10 goals and 15 assists in 19 games.
Link to KHL highlights for Nicklas Backstrom:
By Diane Doyle
Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom To Skate In 900th NHL Game Together vs. Devils On Friday Night
NHL.com: Ovechkin Signs with Moscow Dynamo
Wash Post: Ovechkin Signs with Moscow Dynamo
SVT.se Article Reporting Backstrom Signing With Dynamo
Wash Post: Backstrom Signs With Dynamo
Wash Post: Ovechkin Misses Dynamo Game with Bronchitis
Backstrom Interview with Russia Beyond (RBTH.com)
KHL.com for statistics