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Backstrom ends goal drought much to the delight of his teammates

Backstrom ends goal drought much to the delight of his teammates

Nicklas Backstrom is not really known as a goal-scorer. In fact, he has made a career out of setting up his linemates for goals and is one of the best in the world at it. But Backstrom has certainly been able to find the back of the net plenty of times in his career, but not lately.

Backstrom scored the first goal of the game in Wednesday's 6-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, but it was also a significant goal for him as well as it snapped a 21-game goal drought for the veteran center.

"Obviously it's nice to score, but I haven't really been thinking about it too much," Backstrom said following the game. "... As a hockey player you always want to score, right?"

That had to have made the last few weeks a frustrating time for Backstrom.


At 21 games without a goal, this season's streak is tied for the second-longest of his career. It is only the third time he has ever gone more than 20 games without denting the twine.

Head coach Barry Trotz hoped to spark the team's offense when he moved Backstrom back onto a line with Alex Ovechkin. The move worked as in the six games prior to Wednesday, Backstrom recorded five points. The only problem was that all five of those points were assists.

"He's not just focused on scoring," Trotz said. "He's focused on checking the right way, he's focused on making plays, winning battles, all those other things, winning faceoffs. Whatever it is that he needs to do to add to our game even though he's not scoring."

As one of the team's top offensive players, however, the Caps need him to produce goals as well.

But it was not solely team success that was on the mind of his linemates.

"[Ovechkin] and I were kind of talking about that in the bagel room before the game," Tom Wilson said, "It would be nice to see 19 put one in the back of the net and he did. He's one of the best teammates and great character guy."


"It was good Nicky got the first one," Trotz said. "I don't think there's anybody on our bench that wasn't happy he got it. It's got to be a sense of relief."

How much relief did Backstrom feel after avoiding a new career-high goalless drought? He'll never tell. Ever the team player, Backstrom said he was happier with the win than with the goal.

"It feels good, but the most important thing is that we won and we played good hockey."

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Evgeny Kuznetsov considered day-to-day, will miss Sunday's game in Philadelphia

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Evgeny Kuznetsov considered day-to-day, will miss Sunday's game in Philadelphia

Evgeny Kuznetsov has been declared day-to-day with an undisclosed upper body injury, the Caps announced Saturday afternoon.

He will not play Sunday against the Flyers, marking the first time in four seasons that the durable 25-year-old center will have missed a game.

Kuznetsov, the Caps’ assists leader and first line pivot over the past week, was injured in the second period of Friday’s 6-3 win over the Islanders. On the play, he slashed on the arm by New York defenseman Thomas Hickey before he tumbled awkwardly into the end boards.


Kuznetsov did not return to the contest.

The Caps did not practice on Saturday as they made their way to Philadelphia, where they'll look to extend their winning streak to five games.  

The team, per usual, did not elaborate about the extent or nature of Kuznetsov’s injury. But it does seem to be a good sign that he was not listed as week-to-week—the designation the Caps typically reserve for more severe injuries. And with a two point lead on Pittsburgh in the Metro Division standings—and a game in hand—they can actually afford to be cautious with one of their most important players.


The injury does, however, come at a time when Kuznetsov appeared to be hitting his stride. Including the two assists he had racked up prior to leaving Friday’s game, Kuzy has amassed five goals and 11 assists in 10 games.    

Without Kuznetsov on Sunday, Nicklas Backstrom, Lars Eller and Jay Beagle will be the team’s most experienced centers. Travis Boyd and/or Chandler Stephenson figure to be deployed as the fourth pivot.

Coach Barry Trotz is expected to meet with reporters prior to Sunday’s game. It’s possible he’ll shed some more light on Kuznetsov’s outlook at that time.

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Who ya got? Trotz faces tough choice in net after Holtby's strong return

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Who ya got? Trotz faces tough choice in net after Holtby's strong return

Braden Holtby has made Barry Trotz’s weekend very difficult, but in a good way.

Back-to-back games against the New York Islanders offered the Capitals an opportunity to play both Philipp Grubauer and Holtby. Grubauer stayed hot earning another win for Washington. On Friday, Holtby got his first start since March 6 and played very well.

“A win is good,” Holtby said after the game. “I felt pretty comfortable. Some things to build off of and things that I want to get better at. It was a step in the right direction.”


A 22 save effort on Friday was bookended by two big saves. The first shot Holtby faced was a turnover on the power play that led to a dangerous shorthanded scoring opportunity for John Tavares early in the first period. Then in the third, with the Capitals leading 5-3 and the Islanders trying to mount a comeback, Holtby turned aside a breakaway opportunity for star rookie Mathew Barzal.

“I thought he was pretty solid,” Trotz said. “He looked really confident.”

“I felt a lot better,” Holtby said. “Not that I was feeling horrible before, it's just you get refreshed. It's like anything, you have a week off work, a holiday or something, you come back a little refreshed.”

And that brings us to Sunday.

On Sunday, the Capitals play the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers are a team in playoff position in desperate need of points after seven of their last eight games.

When asked on Wednesday who he thought would start Sunday’s game, Trotz said, “We're in a result business and we need some results so we'll see who is looking the sharpest and gives us the best chance to win.”

Both Grubauer and Holtby were impressive in their starts over the Islanders. You can’t argue Holtby is suddenly the hotter hand after one win considering how well Grubauer has played of late, but if Holtby remaisn the team’s No. 1, shouldn’t he get the next start after a strong winning performance?


Trotz was asked after the game who would start on Sunday after Holtby’s win.

“They're both playing well so I can't even answer that right now to be honest with you,” he said. “I do know that we have a number of games this week and whatever way go, obviously I'm going to sit down with the coaches and whatever way we go, I think they're both going to get some time this week.”

“I think you have to take it game-by-game,” Trotz added. “Bottom line is that you've got to make a decision and go with it and if your decision is that goalie A is a little hotter or you've just got a gut feel then you go with it and you have to live with it good or bad.”

So for now, it sounds as if we will see a rotation in net as Trotz continues evaluating which netminder gives the team the best chance to win in the playoffs. It is a tough position for the Caps’ bench boss, but, if both goalies continue to perform, having to choose between a hot Grubauer and a resurgent Holtby is a good problem to have and much preferable to having to choose between backup Grubauer and slumping Holtby.

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