Alexander Ovechkin has 46 goals and 58 assists in 69 games. He’s two points out of the league lead despite having played 10 fewer games than Henrik Sedin, who’s out in front. He’s also a goal back of Sid Crosby in the Rocket Richard race despite eight fewer games played. He’s the league leader at plus-42. He leads the league in shots by a healthy margin. He devours minutes.
And he’s not the Capitals’ MVP.
Washington’s most valuable player, rather, is Nicklas Backstrom, who will likely break 100 points for the first time in his career over Washington’s remaining three games. While Ovechkin is off rifling goal after terrifying goal past opposing goalies (and getting himself suspended), Backstrom is doing everything else that makes the Caps such an offensive juggernaut.
Obviously he has the offense, but he does everything else effectively enough as well. In the dodgy world of NHL turnover differential, he’s dead even at 51 giveaways and takeaways. He wins almost exactly 50 percent of his draws. Certainly, he’s not hurting his team as much as Ovechkin does with his tendency to attempt to shoot the lights out and put the puck 90 feet wide or into an opponent’s body, or try to dance through too many players to make a highlight-reel shot. He also has more blocked shots than any other Washington forward, and is 19th league-wide. You’ll note that none of the guys in front of him have anything approaching 95 points.
Nothing that’ll absolutely floor you with its audacity, but certainly a strong and reliable player in all respects not immediately relating to offense.
But the difference between Backstrom and Ovechkin is this: when Ovechkin is on the ice, everything gravitates toward him. The puck magically finds it was to his stick. Every eye in the building is on him, just waiting for something to happen. With Backstrom, you often don’t see him until it’s too late.
Where Ovechkin is more often a one-man show, Nick Backstrom is the master choreographer. It’s difficult to name a Caps forward on whose goal Backstrom hasn’t assisted. By my count, 14 different Capitals forwards have picked up a total of 66 points on goals for which Backstrom was on the ice but Ovechkin was not. Semin, Knuble, Laich, Fleischmann, Morrison, Giroux, Bradley, Aucoin, Clark, Fehr, Chimera, Perrault, Walker and Steckel have all picked up points thanks to Backstrom’s subtle (and occasionally not-so-subtle) brilliance.
Backstrom had a goal and two assists in tonight’s OT win over Boston. The goal certainly wasn’t the prettiest he ever scored, but the feed on the OT game-winner across the ice to Alex Semin was the kind of thing I can watch as often as he seems to be able to make them, which is to say constantly.
People talk about the league not properly marketing all its stars, like Jarome Iginla or Marc Savard or Marian Gaborik or Ilya Kovalchuk. Well Nicky Backstrom’s got more points than all of them, and you don’t even hear his name brought up in that conversation. It’s too bad.
He’s really carried the Caps this year.
St. Louis 2, Columbus 1 (OT)
What a barnburner. Marc Methot got caught playing with a broken stick. Don’t see that every day.
Edmonton 4, Minnesota 1
I can’t think of a single team that wants this season to be over more than the Wild. They managed just 26 shots on goal. Against the Oilers. I can’t believe it.