Nicklas Backstrom is going a long way to prove that he is more than just Alex Ovechkin's caddy. He had a two-goal night -- his fifth of the season -- to lead the Washington Captials to a 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators, before a sold out Verizon Center.
Backstrom added an assist as well on Mike Knuble's first period goal and was simply dominant. In addition to the scoring, he was 53% in the dot on faceoffs and part of a penalty kill that gave up just two shots in six minutes shorthanded.
Newly minted captain Alex Ovechkin had a goal (his 28th) and assisted on both of Backstrom's tallies, breaking a two-game scoreless streak.
The Caps got out to a quick 2-0 lead, courtesy of some good old-fashioned hard work. The fourth line had several good shifts in the first period, but none better that the one that resulted in Boyd Gordon's first goal of the season -- his first in over a year.
David Steckel, Matt Bradley and Gordon cycled the puck in the corner against the Senators' defense, and Steckel twice went into the corner to dig the puck out. Gordon got a wrister off that goalie Pascal Leclaire knocked aside but could not control.
Bradley took a whack at it, drawing a backchecking forward, and the rebound snuck out to Gordon in the slot, who dumped in into a poorly defended net as he was knocked face-first to the ice.
Gordon has missed significant time this season dealing with back spasms, and his head coach was happy to see his determination and hard work pay off with a goal.
"You have no idea how big a relief it is, if you haven't played the game, to score a goal when you haven't scored," coach Bruce Boudreau said of Gordon. "He works so hard and gets so little credit sometimes, so it was nice to see him score a goal and feel good about himself."
"The so-called fourth line, when they got on they outworked the opposition and they were successful," Boudreau remarked after the game.
But Chris Phillips sneaked a bouncing puck past Jose Theodore with two and a half minutes left in the second period, and everyone wearing red in the building started to hold their breath.
Backstrom then picked the team up. On the opening faceoff in the third period, the 22-year old took a feed from Ovechkin at the left wing circle and beat an out-of-position Leclaire near-side from a sharp angle, as Backstrom shot practically from the goal line.
Ten minutes later, the Swedish Olympian took a puck at center ice, skated through the defense, behind the net and wrapped the puck around the post, fooling a slow-reacting Leclaire, who did not have the best night facing 38 shots.
"[Backstrom] showed a lot of leadership because I thought we were floundering a little bit in the second period when it was 2-1," Boudreau said. "Then he comes out in the third period and gets two goals. He was just determined. That's what's making him one of the best."
Backstrom now has 17 goals this season, and nine in his last 11 games.
Goalie Jose Theodore, who was beaten for six goals his last start against Carolina Dec. 28, played well, turning aside 26 of 28 shots faced. He played with a confidence that had been missing his last couple of starts.
"I thought Jose played good. If he'd had any luck today he should have had a shutout," Boudreau said of his netminder. "You can tell he's solid when he's controlling his rebounds and he really controlled his rebounds tonight."
"I'm really happy for him and I hope that gets his confidence going."
Theodore stressed the extra shooting he's taken during practice and work with goalie coach Arturs Irbe is making a difference in his preparation and concentration.
Win the win, the Caps raise their record to 14-3-3 at home, and Boudreau was quick to point out to the press that when they return from their three-game road trip next week, they will have played the fewest home games of anyone in the league, something that he hopes will help the team down the stretch to capture the Eastern Conference title.
Notes: Quentin Laing and Tyler Sloan were healthy scratches.
Brian Pothier played for the first time in 11 games. Washington is just 7-6-1 in games Pothier has not played this season.