The Capitals’ stalwart center, Nicklas Backstrom, has been off to a blazing hot offensive start to the 2021 NHL regular season, posting 10 goals and 15 assists through 21 games, good for a 1.19 points per game average. At that rate, he’s on pace to score 66.67 points in this season’s shortened schedule of 56 games.
While Backstrom is having a tremendous start to his season, which includes being the Capitals’ leading goal scorer, how does this season’s performance so far line up to his first 21 games of each season since 2007? (Click to enlarge).
Backstrom has matched his highest point total in the first 21 games of a season this year at 25, set previously back in the 2011-12 regular season. Backstrom posted 7 goals and 18 assists in the first 21 games of the 2011-12 season, which is more of a typical stat-line for the elite playmaking center.
The place where Backstrom’s performance hops off the page is in the goal scoring category.
With 10 goals so far this season, he’s only two goals away from matching his goal output from last season, where he played in 61 games. 10 goals through his first 21 games is the most he’s posted since the 2015-16 season. In fact, he’s nearly doubled his average goals scored in the first 21 games of the season.
The key for Backstrom’s increased goal scoring this year is likely due to key top six forwards missing time, making Backstrom more of a primary offensive threat. If we use a proportional extrapolation, Backstrom is scoring at a pace that would put him at 26.66 goals over the shortened 56 game 2021 season. Even with the shortened season, 26 goals would be the highest total for a season going back to his career high mark of 33 goals he set over a decade ago in the 2009-10 season.
According to MoneyPuck.com, Backstrom is putting up .77 expected goals per 60 minutes played, which amasses to 5 total expected goals through 392 minutes played. MoneyPuck adjusts his expected goals figure with predicted shooting talent, which is considered 12.1% above average. That drags his expected goals to 5.6, which is still about half of what Backstrom has actually scored this season. Backstrom is currently shooting at a 23.8% rate, which is about 11.6 net percentage points above his career average shooting percentage of 12.2%.
The key here is, a 23.8% shooting percentage is very unlikely to persist throughout the entire season. There will likely be some regression towards the mean, but the good news here is that his assists rate fall exactly at his average assist rate through his first 21 games throughout his career. With 15 assists through 21 games, that would be 40 assists through 56 games with a proportional extrapolation.
Overall, in a season wrought with injuries and COVID related absences, Backstrom has been the Capitals’ rock so far this season. Backstrom’s value to the franchise has been confirmed, especially after signing a new extension kicking in this season, upping his cap hit to $9.2 million. He’s certainly been proving that he’s worth that figure so far this season. His first 21 games this season have been excellent, here’s to hoping the next 21 will be more of the same.
By Justin Trudel