Nicklas Backstrom hit the ice last week for his first NHL Training Camp since 2019. In previous offseasons, the veteran Swede dealt with lingering hip-related issues limiting what he could do. But with his successful surgery in June 2022 correcting his problems, the Capitals center was able to fully train without limitations in the summer. During his first press conference back with Capitals media, Backstrom made it clear he was healthy and done talking about his hip.
The silky playmaker dressed for his first preseason game on Thursday against the Detroit Red Wings, skating on a line with Alex Ovechkin. The dynamic duo didn’t wait long to get on the scoresheet and played more minutes than any other Caps forwards.
Backstrom earned effusive praise postgame from teammates and coaches who noticed just how rejuvenated he looks.
“Nicke looked amazing,” Tom Wilson said. “He looked like himself from 10 years ago. He was moving his feet really well. He’s so smart. I’ll play with that guy any day of the week. He’s such a smart player. He makes the guys on the ice around him better.”
Backstrom opened his preseason scoring 7:38 into the second period to tie the game at one. The goal was a role reversal from his usual dynamic with Ovechkin: No. Eight picked up the puck along the half wall and filtered the puck inside to Backstrom, who slapped it by Alex Lyon in Detroit’s net.
“It’s preseason. I have to find a way to make passes,” Ovechkin joked. “In the regular season, it’s probably going to be shot.”
819 (pre)SZN pic.twitter.com/67fiZlLoV6
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For Carbery though, it wasn’t Backstrom’s tally that stood out to him the most. Instead, it was a simpler play right before John Carlson potted the team’s eventual game-winning goal.
“Loved that O-zone shift late in the third period,” Carbery said. “We end up scoring on and inside of that shift, where there’s a lot of good movement and principles that we’ve talked about over the last week and a half, Nick Backstrom changes as we have the puck. That’s a very unique thing that you don’t see very often, as it’s a very selfless thing to do in a situation where you feel like a goal is coming at some point.
“[Backstrom] sacrifices and says, ‘You know what, I’m tired right now. I’m going to get someone fresh on the ice.’ And, Mike Sgarbossa races on there, wins a puck battle, and it’s in the back of the net. Little things like that were on display which I was really, really impressed with.”
Carbery reunited Backstrom and Ovechkin on a line from the very start of Training Camp. The two struggled when paired together under former head coach Peter Laviolette, being outscored 22 to 19 at five-on-five. They were dominated from a process perspective.
But as Carbery made sure to point out, this season is a fresh start for Backstrom in particular.
“I’ve been really impressed with the way he’s looked,” Carbery said. “You have to understand how I see it because I wasn’t here. I didn’t coach the team. I wasn’t watching Nick Backstrom closely over the last two years and I know he’s had the injury. So, I think it’s just a perfect storm of him having a full summer to rehab. You can tell his energy every day on the ice, he’s excited to compete, and he wants to play in all of the exhibition games. So, all I know is that player. He’s been great.”
Backstrom got into just 39 games last season after undergoing hip-resurfacing surgery and put up a disappointing 21 points (7g, 14a), his career-worst output. Thursday’s preseason game, which saw Backstrom skate well in all three game situations, could be a good start to putting that year behind him.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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