"I almost forgot how it was to score a goal." Nicklas Backstrom, obviously relieved his 21-game goal-less streak is over.
THE RESULT: The last time Nicklas Backstrom scored an NHL goal was Dec. 1 in a 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues. It was the Washington Capitals fourth straight win and their record was 18-6-2, good for first in the Eastern Conference.
The HBO cameras had not yet arrived. The Winter Classic was just a gleam in everyone's eye. And they had not yet started the eight-game losing streak that killed the early-season moment, though it would commence the next night in Dallas.
But last night on Long Island, Backstrom got his mojo back with a goal (12) and an assist, leading the Caps to victory over the cellar-dwelling New York Islanders, 2-1, before an announced 9,119 at the dreary Nassau Coliseum.
Jason Chimera had the Caps other goal, while captain Alex Ovechkin had the primary assist on both markers.
Rookie goalie Braden Holtby, recalled in the morning for the ailing Michal Neuvirth, started and saved 24-of-25 shots on goal.
Ovechkin was the instigator on both goals. He fed Chimera, camping in the crease, for a redirect to take a 1-0 lead early in the first period. Then in the second, he made a strong move going to the net and had his attempt stopped by Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro (22 saves), but Backstrom followed it up and merely tapped the puck into the net to seal the deal.
New York got their goal less than two minutes later, as Michael Grabner corralled a long pass and skated around John Carlson, roofing a shot on Holtby as he cut through the crease.
Despite some anxious moments killing off power plays, Washington kept the young Islanders, and their leading scorer John Tavares, bottled up the rest of the evening. Taveras got five shots on goal, but none were quality scoring chances.
So the Caps have now taken three out of four available points to them so far on this three-game road trip, with Saturday night's matchup in Toronto looming. Hockey Night in Canada is never a fun game to play in, especially at the end of a week-long roadie.
But last night's win should buoy the spirit of this team, still trying to find itself though we're past the half-way point of the season. For the past month and a half, the Caps have been playing under a bad moon, heads hung low and dragging their feet, wondering what bad luck would befall them next.
Last night, for the first time in a long time, they looked like a weight had been lifted off their shoulders. None moreso than Backstrom, who was in the deepest slump of his young career. Both goals came as a result of forwards driving to the net. The grinders (notably Boyd Gordon and Matt Hendricks) dug in the corner for pucks. Defensemen shut down passing lanes and clogged the neutral zone.
It wasn't a dominating game by any stretch of the imagination and the opponent wasn't the fiercest. But it was a hard-fought two points, and the Caps needed the effort -- and the result.
THE GOOD: The penalty kill team killed all six minor penalties against. The defense in general, against a pretty weak Islanders attack, looked good all night, holding them to just 25 shots.
The Caps had the best in the dot as well, winning 62 percent of the draws.
THE BAD: Mathieu Perreault's tripping penalty at 9:34 of the 3rd was infuriating. The Islander d-man was clearing the puck from behind his own net and Perreault came barrelling for him, lost his edge, reached out his stick, and tripped up the defenseman unnecessarily, causing much angst for the two minute disadvantage.
THE UGLY: Not that there was anything ugly about his performance, but D.J. King only got six shifts and 3:25 of TOI, and that's with the Islanders carrying two of the top fighters in the league. It's pretty apparent where he fits into Bruce Boudreau's system.
THE STATS: Jason Chimera (7) from Alex Ovechkin (31) and Nicklas Backstrom (32) at 3:41 of 1st. Nicklas Backstrom (12) from Alex Ovechkin (32) and John Carlson (15) at 3:38 of 2nd.
NEXT GAME: Hockey Night in Canada: Saturday at Toronto Maple Leafs at 7:00 pm.
CAPS NEWS NETWORK THREE STARS
3. Jason Chimera/Braden Holtby. Can't make up my mind. Couldn't have been easy for Holtby to rush to Long Island and make 24-of-25 saves. Chimmy had six shots on goal and a couple of big hits. Respect the speed.
2. Alex Ovechkin. He only managed one SOG and two others blocked, but had the primary assist on both goals, and looks more like himself every game. It's coming.
1. Nicklas Backstrom. Goal, assist, plus-2, 10-for-14 in the dot. His best game in weeks. Even snuck in an expletive directed at an Islanders player after the final horn. Stay Angry, Nicky.