When the Capitals signed center Nicklas Backstrom to a five-year, $46 million dollar contract last year ($9.2 million AAV), some NHL observers thought that Washington had overpaid. But as the contract kicks in, Backstrom is proving the critics wrong with a hot start to the season.
With a three-point game, including a goal, in the Washington Capitals‘ 4-3 overtime victory against the Boston Bruins on Saturday night, the 33-year-old extended his point streak to five games, where he has three goals and nine points. Saturday’s victory was also Backstrom’s second straight multi-point game after recording two assists against the New York Islanders on Thursday.
In nine games this season, Backstrom’s 13 points rank fourth in the NHL behind only Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid (17), Oilers center Leon Draisaitl (15), and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner (14). His eight assists are tied for ninth and his six power-play points are tied for third. He leads the Capitals in all three of the major statistical categories.
Backstrom’s performance is all the more impressive with captain Alex Ovechkin (four games), center Evgeny Kuznetsov (five and counting), and forward Tom Wilson (two) all missing time early in the season.
Backstrom has had some luck along the way as his 40.18% expected goals-for percentage ranks last on the Capitals while his 44.05% Corsi-for percentage is the seventh-worst on the team according to Natural StatTrick. His 40.4% scoring chances-for percentage is also relatively low and is the sixth-worst on the Capitals. According to MoneyPuck, his 2.1 goals-above-expected at five-on-five is tied with Wilson for the best on the team and 12.1% shooting talent above average is fourth.
Last season, Backstrom recorded two goals and eight points through the team’s first nine games.
In his sophomore NHL season, where he finished with 66 assists, 88 points, and a +16 rating in 82 games, Backstrom tallied just four assists in his first nine games of the season. At the beginning of the 2009-10 season, where he finished with career-highs in all statistical categories, Backstrom got off to a hot start as he tallied two goals and 10 points in his first four games of the season but had only one assist in his next five. During his start to the 2016-17 season, where he finished with 63 assists and 86 points, Backstrom tallied only five assists in his first nine games of the season.
Backstrom has averaged the most ice-time among all Capitals’ forwards this season (19:22). He has also been deployed on the defensive side of the puck as he has averaged 32 seconds-per-game on the penalty kill, double what he averaged while shorthanded last season.
Backstrom has performed admirably defensively while seeing an uptick in his offensive production as his seven blocked shots are the most among Capitals’ forwards. He has also averaged only 1.72 giveaways-per-60 minutes and 1.37 takeaways-per-60 minutes (fifth on the Capitals.
While Backstrom’s production has increased, it’s nearly impossible to sustain his 21.7 percent shooting percentage for long. Backstrom’s career shooting percentage is 12.1%. However, there are not many more players that have been as consistent as Backstrom over the years so it will be interesting to see how long he and the Capitals can keep rolling.
By Harrison Brown