Photos: John McCreary/Scott Taetsch/NHLI via Getty Images
The Washington Capitals earned a 1-0 shutout victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets Sunday evening at Capital One Arena. The win wasn’t pretty overall, but it felt better with the returns of right-wing Tom Wilson and center Nicklas Backstrom.
— NBC Sports Capitals (@NBCSCapitals) January 8, 2023
Caps faithful gave both players a warm welcome back as they were announced for the starting lineup:
Loud cheers for Tom Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom as they are announced in WSH’s starting lineup before the game vs CBJ. Both making their season debuts. pic.twitter.com/qkFboYZxku
— Samantha Pell (@SamanthaJPell) January 8, 2023
Wilson recorded 14:10 on the ice, one shot on goal, and six hits. Backstrom registered 14:03 of ice time, one shot on goal, three hits, and had a 70% face-off percentage.
Additionally, Backstrom returned to the first power-play unit, spending 2:45 on the man advantage throughout the evening. Wilson joined the second unit and saw 1:13 on the power play during the game.
Capitals’ power play units:
PP1 – Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, Oshie, Gustafsson
PP2 – Ovechkin, Strome, Johansson, Wilson, Orlov
— Matt Weyrich (@ByMattWeyrich) January 8, 2023
A look at the team’s expected goals for percentage at even strength, with Wilson having nearly 80% while Backstrom stayed around 30%:
It will likely take several games for Wilson (underwent ACL surgery on May 25) and Backstrom (underwent hip resurfacing surgery on June 2) to fire on all cylinders, as we’ve seen before. Still, the fact both Capitals stars have made their first appearance this season is an encouraging sign now and for what’s to come.
“It felt a little bit better than I thought out there,” Wilson expressed regarding his knee. We all know Wilson to be a physical player, but not quite at the moment. A scrum involving him almost happened, as Wilson noted, “[Blue Jackets’ Mathieu Olivier] wanted to fight and I just said, ‘hey, give me a game to get my body back into it here. I had to politely decline.'”
Wilson told the media on January 4 that he and Backstrom have been close throughout their recoveries as both had similar timetables on return. He reiterated that again postgame, saying, “Backy just has that demeanor that makes everyone around him better…it’s really inspiring and he’s been a huge inspiration for me throughout the whole process.”
“It meant the world,” Backstrom said on taking the ice again. “Obviously, I missed this and with not knowing what my future was going to hold, just coming back and playing was great.”
As mentioned, both players received standing ovations from fans as they were announced. Backstrom said it was “amazing,” and he “couldn’t have asked for anything else.” “It was something special that’s for sure…moments like that, you’re never gonna forget.”
On Wednesday, the Capitals clash next with the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center. NBC Sports Washington+ will have the coverage beginning at 7 PM ET.
By Della Young