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On a night where Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin netted his 400th career goal, which helped secure a 4-2 win over the rival Carolina Hurricanes, one would expect the Russian star to receive all the attention and kudos for the victory. But one look at the stats sheet would reveal that Ovechkin’s benchmark tally, in an empty net no less, was far from being the driving force behind the Caps’ 19th victory of the season. That distinction falls amazingly and rather quietly on center Nicklas Backstrom, and the man who wears number 19 for the Caps wouldn’t have it any other way.
It truly is amazing to look at Backstrom’s career numbers and wonder how he continues to fly so under the radar. While everyone will be wrapped up in the hoopla of Ovi’s 400th goal, consider this: since 2010/2011, Backstrom has assisted on 47.5% of Ovi’s goals. That’s an astounding number of production assistance. This is nothing new to Caps fans or players however, because since Backstrom’s rookie year in 2006/2007 he sits 4th in league assists. After his 4 assist outing against the Hurricanes tonight, he leapfrogged one Sidney Crosby, the world’s resident best player, in assists this season with 33. Is it any coincidence that Ovechkin also leads the league in goals at 29? Not even close.
Backstrom has been a model of offensive consistency his whole career, and is a point-per-game player with 456 points in 448 regular season games, with 339 of those being assists. This year has been no different, as Backstrom has posted 41 points in 35 games to sit tied at 3rd with Evgeni Malkin. Let’s go back to the 4 assist night tonight. This is Backstrom’s 5th game this season alone with 3 or more assists, and his 9th career game with 4 or more. No other player has more than 5 games with 4 or more helpers since Backstrom entered the league. Not Crosby, not Thornton, nobody. That’s astounding when you think of how low key this player is. In preseason player rankings this year, no major sports outlets had Backstrom ranked higher than 47th, with two ranking him 50th and 80th. That goes to show how underrated this guy has been. Playing next to this generation’s greatest goal scorer will do that, but wow, talk about under appreciation.
In the last 7 games Backstrom has played, he has 16 points. That’s a clip of over 2 points-per-game. He is the engine behind the NHL’s second best powerplay, where Ovechkin has struck 11 times, which also leads the league. Who assisted on all 11 of those tallies? Yeah, you know by now who I’m referring to. With all these impressive stats, its also amazing to think that Backstrom has never been invited to an All Star Game. Ever. Perhaps that changes this season? It remains to be seen whether he will garner that kind of deserved attention anytime soon, but the 26 year old native of Gavle, Sweden prefers it that way.
On a side note: Alex Ovechkin became the 6th fastest player in NHL history to reach 400 career goals at 634 games edging out fellow Russian Pavel Bure by one game. Ovechkin is the 89th player in league history to hit 400 career goals. Wondering who the only 5 that were faster to the 400 mark might be? 1. Gretzky 2. Bossy 3. Lemieux 4. Hull 5. Kurri. Pretty elite company for a guy who’s “best years are behind him” (quote courtesy of NBC’s Mike Milbury in 2012.) Based on the stats laid out in this article, you can bet Nicklas Backstrom had a lot to do with the “Great 8′s” race to 400.