Nicklas Backstrom steps up for Capitals with Alex Ovechkin injured

Greg Fiume

Nicklas Backstrom has performed well for the Capitals in Alex Ovechkin's absence.

WASHINGTON -- With the Capitals' top offensive weapon on the shelf this weekend, Nicklas Backstrom upped his game over the weekend, helping deliver the decisive tallies in both of Washington's wins to bring the Caps to the .500 mark and 3rd place in the sluggish Metropolitan Division.

Friday night in Philadelphia, with Washington on its heels in a first period dominated by the Flyers, Backstrom one-timed a feed from Martin Erat past fellow Swede Nicklas Grosmann and goaltender Steve Mason in the top corner, giving the Caps a much-needed boost.

After Backstrom's goal, the Caps rolled to six unanswered tallies - including another by Backstrom in the second period past replacement netminder Ray Emery - with the first goal being the turning point of the game in the 7-0 rout, and the eventual game-winner.

Saturday in Washington, Backstrom again proved to be the decisive player, scoring a goal in the first period to give the Caps the lead, taking a puck that redirected off the back of Erat's skate and shooting it past Florida netminder Scott Clemmensen. Backstrom proved to again decide the game, beating Clemmensen cleanly in the shootout to end the 3-2 Caps win.

After the game, Backstrom was fairly modest about his performance Saturday, describing his first goal by passing credit.

"Well ... it hit Marty's skate," he said. "I tried to go five-hole. I was lucky."

Although Backstrom more than doubled his goal total this season in just two games, Backstrom didn't think not having Ovechkin was a factor in his game.

"I think the puck has just come to me more often, and I mean, that's just a coincidence," he said.

However, it's pretty clear that armed with a nifty passing gift, Backstrom sometimes opts to try and set up his linemates rather than take a shot himself, and armed with a good shot of his own, sometimes that means giving up some scoring chances by dishing the puck. 

Backstrom registered a career-high 33 goals in the 2009-10 season, but he has scored only 45 goals in the four seasons since. While he does have 128 assists in that four-year stretch, he tends to pass rather than shoot - even in prime shooting spots - which undermines the accurate shot he possesses, and sometimes the defender plays the pass rather the shot when Backstrom has the puck.

Over the weekend, he opted to fire when given the chance, and helped the Caps offense deliver 9 goals in the pair of games without their top goal-getter, .

"He's been good the last two games," Capitals coach Adam Oates said of Backstrom's performance over the weekend. "He's been good all year." 

Unlike his linemate Ovechkin who fires at will - Ovechkin still leads the league with 75 shots despite missing the two games - Backstrom's shot total is barely one-third of his linemate's. Backstrom has taken just 26 shots, but with a 19.2 shooting percentage, including connecting on 3 of 4 shots over the weekend.

While the Capitals will be happy to have Ovechkin back on the ice - perhaps as early as Tuesday when the Islanders visit - clearly, the Caps can be a much more dangerous team when Backstrom opts to fire the puck a bit more and keep the defenders and goaltenders more honest. While he is a talented passer, he certainly showed how good his shooting prowess in Ovechkin's absence.

As for Backstrom, he was happy to be able to contribute a lot over the weekend.

"I think the games we played, we forechecked, we tried to work together as a line, and scored goals as well," he said. "Hopefully we can work off of this."

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