By Adam Vingan
Midway through the first period of Saturday’s 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators, the Washington Capitals scored their first goal of the night. Two things were monumental about that goal. First, it was the Caps’ first 5-on-4 power play of the season. Second (and perhaps most importantly), it was Nicklas Backstrom’s first goal since March 22. It had been quite a while since Caps fans had seen Backstrom’s trademark one arm salute. Despite his calm, almost stoic demeanor after scoring, Backstrom’s face illuminated when asked about how it felt to end his scoring drought.
“Unbelievable,” he said.
Self-confidence is incredibly important to everyone. Backstrom, however, seemingly had none left at the end of last season. After an outstanding 101-point season in 2009-10, Backstrom struggled throughout 2010-11 as his point total plummeted 36 points to 65 for the season. Backstrom also only had 19 multi-point games last season, down from 28 the season before. During the 2011 portion of last season, Backstrom scored just seven goals in 38 games. He scored a goal March 22 against the Philadelphia Flyers and did not score again for the rest of the season, including the Stanley Cup Playoffs. During the postseason, Backstrom mustered just two assists.
It was obvious during and after the postseason that Backstrom was distraught over his poor performance. Through the first three games of this season, however, Backstrom’s production began to pick up as he earned four assists, including the primary assist on Dennis Wideman’s game-winning goal in Thursday’s 3-2 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Saturday, Backstrom – the team’s leading scorer with five points – scored a goal of his own on a simple wrist shot into a wide open net, but what seemed simple could ultimately turn into something much more meaningful now that he has regained his confidence.
“Nicky’s a great player,” head coach Bruce Boudreau said. “If he scores 10 goals…Henrik Sedin won the scoring title – I don’t think he scored 30. His game is setting guys up and moving pucks around. When he can score, it’s a definite bonus. He probably felt good about it because as a competitor, he’s probably feeling inside pressure. He’s not getting it from me, but he’s feeling it because he’s a great player and he wants to be doing well himself.”