When you see highlights of T.J. Oshie and Alex Ovechkin blasting hockey pucks past goaltenders as if they were golf balls on a driving range, look closer and you’ll see a quiet caddy gently placing those balls on the tee.
His name is Nicklas Backstrom and he is the match that lights those 100 mph fire crackers off the sticks of his sharp-shooting linemates.
“I don’t know if we can somehow put a heart-rate monitor on him, but it seems like when he gets the puck everything slows down for him,” Oshie said of Backstrom, who picked up his 30th and 31st assists of the season in Thursday night’s 3-2 win over the New York Islanders at Verizon Center.
“Some guys get a little fidgety and kind of throw it places and he’s able to stay calm and see what’s behind the first, second and third layers, and that’s why he’s such a great passer.”
Backstrom proved that on Thursday night, setting up Oshie’s 16th goal of the season by streaking into the offensive zone and abruptly hitting the brakes. Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy was caught flat-footed by the move and before he could get back into the play, Oshie was drilling a slapshot past goaltender Jaroslav Halak to tie the score.
“He knew I was there,” Oshie said. “I don’t know how, but he knew.”
“Those are the subtleties,” said Capitals coach Barry Trotz, who played center back in his junior days. “He faked like he was going to go low, forced the defenseman to overcommit, put the brakes on and finds Osh coming in there.
“Most guys would drive to the net and try to make a play. He knew he was doing that all the way, I guarantee it. He’s thinking well above most of us. His IQ is off the charts when it comes to that type of thing.”
The same goes for Ovechkin’s game-winner. While Ovechkin was winding up to take his game-winning one-timer, Backstrom was quietly lobbing the puck softly into his wheelhouse, like a batting practice pitcher in a home run derby.
“That,” Ovechkin said, “is why he’s an All-Star.”
Backstrom now has a five-game point streak (four goals, three assists) and has earned 16 points in his last 13 games. As a result his 48 points in 46 games leave him two behind Evgeny Kuznetsov for the team lead.