Quick Links

Backstrom the quiet caddy for Ovi, Oshie


Backstrom the quiet caddy for Ovi, Oshie

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.”

[RELATED: Ovechkin to the rescue as Caps beat Isles]

“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. 

Quick Links

The human side of the NHL's trade deadline


The human side of the NHL's trade deadline

Congratulations! You just got a new job. There’s just one catch: it’s in a new city.

Oh, and by the way, you start tomorrow. Good luck.

That would be a pretty big shock for anyone, but it is the reality that hockey players constantly face and one that is exacerbated as the trade deadline approaches.

“I know fans and media get really excited about it, but they're not the ones that have to pick up and move their families,” Brooks Orpik said following Sunday’s practice. “I think players are looked at as kind of objects at times, just a number. People don't know there's a human side to trades.”

This season’s NHL trade deadline is 3 p.m. on Monday. Until then, every locker room faces a degree of uncertainty.


Almost no player or prospect is untouchable. Even if there are no rumors surrounding a team or things seem set, the threat of a trade hangs over the heads of the players like the sword of Damocles until the deadline finally comes and goes.

Even for those players who know they won’t be moved or who can’t be moved because of various clauses in their contracts, it still remains a stressful time as they could still see friends shipped to another city.

“I think what happens on that day is all the players, as soon as they get off the ice at morning skate, they're all looking at their phones and trying to see what happens,” Barry Trotz said. “They want to see what happens around the league.”

Sure, a player can go from a last place team to a contender. On the surface, they should be happy. Behind the scenes, however, midseason trades always carry family implications.

“It's tough on guys,” Orpik said. “Guys have kids in schools or have roots in the community of the teams they play for. As fun as it is for some people, I think as players it can definitely be nerve-wracking for people.”


When those trades do happen, they obviously can throw a player’s life upside-down.

For those players who are not traded, the team has to adjust both to losing familiar faces and to embracing new ones into the locker room.

“When someone comes into a new group, it's not much changed except for obviously a new piece,” Jay Beagle said. “But it's definitely harder on them so you try to make it as easy as possible on them.”

Thus far, the Capitals have added defensemen Michal Kempny and Jakub Jerabek over the past week. While both trades were done in exchange for draft picks, Taylor Chorney was a casualty of the trades as he was placed on waivers to make room for the new additions and was claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“It's tough losing guys, especially guys that are well-liked in our room,” Orpik said. “Taylor Chorney is a really well-liked guy so I think that impacted us a little bit.”

On Monday, fans, analysts, players and coaches alike will all be frantically checking their phones looking for the latest trade news, but while the deadline brings excitement for fans, it bears very different feelings for the players involved. Those players are people working a job and those trades mean uprooting their life in a matter of days. Regardless of whether a player is better off in terms of the team situation, there is still a human cost to doing business.

“It can affect certain guys because their names are obviously spread all over the place,” Trotz said. “They're human too. They pretend to not hear it, but they do.”

Quick Links

Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice


Michal Kempny already promoted to top-four at Sunday's practice

After two games, it looks like Michal Kempny is already moving up in the lineup.

At Sunday’s practice, Kempny played on the team's second defensive pairing, lining up on the left of John Carlson. Previously, the Czech defenseman had been playing on the right of Brooks Orpik. The move to the left allows him to play on his natural side as he is a left-handed shot.

Here are the pairs from Sunday’s practice:

Dmitry Orlov – Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny – John Carlson
Brooks Orpik – Christian Djoos
Jakub Jerabek – Madison Bowey

Acquired on Monday from the Chicago Blackhawks, Kempny has played in two games for the Capitals and has received glowing reviews thus far.

“He's a really good pro, that's what sticks out,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “He takes care of himself, he works at his game off the ice and with the guys, he has fit in very well.”


“I've gotten to play a little bit with [Kempny] the last couple games,” Brooks Orpik said. “I think he's a guy that, he moves pretty well and he moves the puck pretty well and likes to keep things pretty simple. He's very consistent and predictable so he's very easy to play with.”

When the Capitals first acquired Kempny, it seemed like the best fit for him would be alongside Carlson. It’s a natural fit with Kempny being a left-shot and Carlson a righty. It also bumps down Christian Djoos to a third-pair role which is preferable to having a rookie in the top-four come the playoffs.

Should Kempny play well with Carlson, that would likely solidify Washington’s top two pairs. The Orlov-Niskanen pair was not going to be changed and Carlson was going to be on the second pair. The only question was who would ultimately play with him in the postseason?

The third pair, however, remains a work in progress.

The Caps will have to wait at least another day for the debut of their second recent acquisition as Jakub Jerabek cannot yet play due to visa issues and will miss Monday's game, reports Isabelle Khurshudyan.

Considering the issues Washington has had on defense, they would not have brought in another defenseman just to be a healthy scratch. He will get his shot to earn a spot in the lineup.

With two new defensemen in tow, obviously the team will need to experiment over the next few days and weeks to find the right combinations.

“We're going to have to probably spend at least the next 10 to 12 games doing that and then we'll have to sort of settle in,” Trotz said. “With eight defenseman, you sort of want to see which guys you’re going to play and who to play as partners and sort of a little bit of ranking. If someone goes down, who's filling that extra role?”