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Barry Trotz calls Nicklas Backstrom 'one of the best passers that have played the game'

Barry Trotz calls Nicklas Backstrom 'one of the best passers that have played the game'

T.J. Oshie opened the scoring in Wednesday's game against the Boston Bruins with a breakaway goal that he neatly sent through the five-hole of goalie Tuukka Rask. He was so wide open, it looked like Oshie was essentially taking a penalty shot, something we all know he excels at.

But as nice as the finish was, the setup by Nicklas Backstrom was even better.

After intercepting a pass by Brad Marchand, Backstrom then sent a perfect saucer pass over the sticks of both Marchand and Colin Miller right to the blade of Oshie who was all alone behind the defense.

"It takes some touch," head coach Barry Trotz said of the pass.

RELATED: Prediction recap: Marchand behaves

Despite the high degree of difficulty, Oshie said he knew immediately that Backstrom would be able to get him the puck which was evident as he immediately took off down the ice as soon as Backstrom stole the pass away.

"I knew Nick was going to be able to get that puck through those two guys to me," Oshie said. How?

"Just cause Nicky's Nicky."

As incredible as the pass was, the Caps have gotten used to those kinds of dazzling plays from the veteran center. But don't make the mistake of thinking those kinds of plays are commonplace.

Trotz added context to Backstrom's phenomenal skill level after the game.

"It looks normal to us, but he's got elite hands. He's one of the best passers that have played the game. You look at how many passes and how he makes it and how he runs the power play and his poise and his patience. He's an outstanding player, playmaker, as good as anybody.

"He's the best I've ever coached, that's for sure, when it comes to playmaking."

MORE CAPITALS: Caps struggle to diagnose the problem with the PK

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4 things to know about the newest Cap, Nick Jensen

4 things to know about the newest Cap, Nick Jensen

Just one day after making Carl Hagelin the newest Capital, Brian MacLellan made another move by trading for defenseman Nick Jensen.

As a depth defenseman for a team outside of the Metropolitan Division, chances are you may not know all that much about him. Here are a few interesting facts you should know about the newest Caps’ defenseman.

Jensen did not make his NHL debut until he was 26

One reason you may not have heard that much about Jensen is because he has not been in the NHL all that long. In fact, he did not make his debut until he was already 26. Talk about a late bloomer.

Jensen was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings 150th overall in the 2009 draft. He entered college a year later and played three years at St. Cloud State. He was signed by Detroit in May 2013 and spent three seasons in the AHL getting recalled to the NHL once, but did not play. Finally in his fourth season with Grand Rapids, Jensen was recalled and made his debut on Dec. 20, 2016. He even recorded an assist in that game. He stuck around and played 49 games for the Red Wings that season. In February 2017, he signed his current contract, a two-year extension with Detroit. That explains why his total cap hit is a meager $812,500.

This is not a player who takes things for granted or is going to come to Washington and be disgruntled at being a third-pairing defenseman after having a more significant role with the Red Wings. He had to fight just to keep his NHL hopes alive.

Jensen was a healthy scratch on opening night and has not missed a game since

Jensen’s season has taken everyone completely by surprise, even his now former team. Defensive depth is one of the major weaknesses of the Detroit Red Wings and Jensen had an opportunity to impress in training camp. He didn’t. Instead, he found himself a healthy scratch on opening night as four rookies were dressed over him.

That was not an encouraging start to the season, but Jensen has played in every game since then and logged over 20 minutes of ice-time per game. He even logged over 28 minutes in a game on Dec. 31 against Florida. From healthy scratch to 28 minutes shows just how much trust he has gained over the course of the season.

Detroit has had to lean on him not only for its lack of depth but also for a myriad of injuries and he seemed to handle each challenge with aplomb.

Jensen has two goals this season and scored them both in the same game

Brooks Orpik and Jensen were the only two players in the NHL last season to play at least 80 games without scoring a goal. That is not his strength and not what he is asked to do, but in this day and age getting production is important. Getting blanked for a full season prompted Jensen to seek help to revamp his shot.

Jensen met with former NHLer Scott Bjugstad in the offseason to discuss adjusting how he positions his stick when he shoots. That work paid off on Oct. 11 when Jensen scored two goals against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He has not scored since.

The Caps ultimately acquired Jensen for what he can do on the defensive end on the ice, on the penalty kill and his ability to break the puck out and quickly get it to the forwards, but there may be more offensive upside there than you may think.

Let’s be clear, I am not saying Jensen is going to start suddenly lighting up the scoresheet or become the next Mike Green. But he put work into his shot and he was a pretty decent offensive player in lower levels. His 31 points in his last season in college ranked first among the team’s defensemen and in the 2014-15 season, he scored six goals and 27 total points in the AHL. In his first NHL season he scored four goals and 13 points in just 49 games. Even his former college coach, Bob Motzko, was not sure if he was more of a forward or a defenseman when he first started recruiting him in high school. Luckily for Jensen, he stuck to defense or his career trajectory most likely would not have taken him this far.

The point is, Jensen’s primary responsibility will be defense, but he may be able to contribute a tad more offense than we saw in Detroit.

Jensen’s new deal is the same as the one Michal Kempny signed in 2018

It took Madison Bowey and a second-round draft pick to get Jensen (and a fifth-round draft pick) which seems pretty high for a third-pair rental, but soon after it became clear why MacLellan was willing to give up so much as it was announced Jensen had signed a new deal for four years and $10 million.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because Kempny signed for the exact same term and the exact same price in 2018.

Now yes, the two contracts are not exactly the same – there are some differences in the signing bonuses and base salary – but in terms of the salary cap the deals are identical.

You may scratch your head at this and wonder why MacLellan would be willing to give the same deal he gave a top pairing defenseman to a third-pair defenseman, but I would suggest you look at it the other way. I do not see this as an overpay on Jensen, a right-shot defenseman who is entering the prime of his career, but more evidence of how much a steal Kempny was both in terms of the original trade and to re-sign. That’s not to say there’s no risk in re-signing Jensen or that the new deal is an automatic home run, it’s far too early to tell. Time will determine whether we look back at re-signing Jensen as a prescient move or overly aggressive. 

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The Capitals are looking for a rare sweep of the Buffalo Sabres

The Capitals are looking for a rare sweep of the Buffalo Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres do not rank high among the Capitals’ most hated rivals, but when you look back at the history of these two teams, Washington has struggled against the Sabres more than you may think.

In the Caps’ first two seasons they faced Buffalo 10 times. Washington lost nine of those games and tied one. In fact, the Caps managed only two wins total in their first 32 meetings.

Even when Washington advanced past their initial struggles as a franchise, success against Buffalo has been hard to come by. In their 43 seasons as a team, the Caps have only managed to sweep the season series with the Sabres three times in 1988-89, 2012-13, 2016-17.

On Saturday, however, the Caps can make it four.

Buffalo visited Washington twice in December with the Caps winning each game. On Saturday, Washington heads to Buffalo for their final meeting of the season. (1 p.m., NBC Sports Washington).

Games notes

Hagelin debut

Carl Hagelin will make his Capitals debut Saturday.  He suited up for the first time with his new team on Friday after getting trade by the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. He practice on the fourth line with Nic Dowd at center and Chandler Stephenson on the wing.

The newly acquired Nick Jensen will not be available for the game.

End of the road

Saturday’s game will be the sixth and final game of a season-long six-game road trip. Washington has already earned three wins guaranteeing them at least a .500 finish. A win Saturday will give them four out of six and turn a respectable road trip into a very good one.

Watching the standings

With two points, Washington can pull even with the New York Islanders. The Caps have 75 points while the Islanders sit in first place with 77. New York has a game in hand on Washington and they play later Saturday night, so a tie in the standings on Saturday afternoon could prove to be short-lived.

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