People sometimes forget just how young some of the prime players on the Capitals are.
Take the center position for example. Nicklas Backstrom is still a young and spry twenty-three years old. Marcus Johansson only became of legal drinking age just a few weeks ago. Between the two, the Capitals have a venerable lockdown on the #1 and #2 center position.
As far as Backstrom is concerned, very few players in the NHL have the all-around ice vision that he does. It seems that Backstrom is as much at ease making no-look back passes, as he is threading the needle forward on the power-play.
As we’ve seen for years, Backstrom also seems to have some innate sixth-sense, (No doubt built upon familiarity with his Russian linemate.) to know where Alexander Ovechkin will be before he makes his move.
Just a few games into the season, we’ve also seen Nicklas add a bit of physicality into his arsenal.
In the second game of the season, Backstrom sent two Lighting forwards onto their backs, with two booming shoulder checks near the boards. I can’t say I’ve seen him do that before this season.
Johansson also seems to have built upon a very strong rookie campaign, and like Backstrom, added some new components to his game.
Already Marcus appears to be more adept at finishing his attacks on net. Johansson also seems to have a better understanding of when he can turn on his speed and catch the other team napping, as he’s done in scoring two wrap-around goals.
And as Bruce Boudreau switches lines more often than a CIA operative, Mike Knuble has played with Backstrom and Johansson this season, and has high praises for them both. “He (Marcus) and Nick are a good one-two right now because Nick is East-West and he’s real crafty that way. Marcus is more North-South. It’s kind of a good little contrast in style,” said Knuble after the Caps 2-1 win against the Senators.
In terms of Johansson’s play, Knuble does not think the twenty-one year old center is done surprising people. “I don’t think the book is all out there on him,” said Knuble. “He’s going to get the puck and go outside and put guys in trouble because of his speed,” Knuble continued.
As for the ‘other’ guy, Backstrom already leads the Caps with five points. So while it’s still too early to guess how many points Nicklas will end the season with, the fact that Backstrom is producing even as Ovechkin hasn’t yet shown his usual scoring flair, speaks well for what we can expect from him the rest of the way.
After scoring a goal on the power play against Ottawa, Backstrom was asked how it felt to score his first goal in seven months, (A question Bruce Boudreau and Capitals writer Mike Vogel considered to be somewhat overdramatic considering that no regular season or playoff hockey was played by in June, July, August or September.) to which he whimsically responded, “unbelievable.”
No doubt you can expect both Backstrom, and Johansson to have their sights set a little higher then scoring a couple goals this season.
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