There’s a chance that Nicklas Backstrom suits up for the Capitals for his first game of the season this Saturday.
Backstrom, who has been recovering from offseason arthroscopic hip surgery, has normally been a mainstay in the Capitals top line. The center is always penciled in next to Alexander Ovechkin. The two have unbelievable chemistry. Backstrom’s ability to find a man for an open pass perfectly complements Ovechkin’s ability to put the puck in the net.
But Evgeny Kuznetsov has filled in as the team’s top center in Backstrom’s absence. And he, Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie are clicking. In their two games together, they have combined for a total of two goals and two assists at even strength. Their most recent goal? Oshie kicked the puck up from his defensive zone, springing Ovechkin and Kuznetsov on a two on one against Chicago Blackhawks’ defenseman Duncan Keith. Ovechkin fed it to Kuznetsov, who fired it back to Ovechkin, and Ovechkin put the puck in the net from behind the goal line.
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"It’s really building," Oshie said of his chemistry with his two line mates. "We’ve been talking a lot on the bench, n games, we’ve been talking during practices, just trying to get those little small plays, those automatic plays, down. (Ovechkin) obviously plays a different style than a lot of guys that I’ve played with in the past. I’m all ears to hear what he wants me to do to make things easier for us on the ice.
“What happens with a line is, it needs some time to talk things out,” Washington Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “I think there’s a mutual respect. A guy like T.J. and Ovi, who’s played in this league and scored so many goals…you know, you want to get the puck to him."
But if Backstrom is added to the mix, and he’s inserted immediately into the top line, it would mean Kuznetsov gets bumped down to the second line. It would potentially break up the lethal chemistry Kuznetsov has developed with Ovechkin and Oshie. Does it make more sense to utilize Backstrom as the second-line center and allow the top line to continue to perform?
Trotz said he wasn’t sure if he’d be willing to insert Backstrom into the top line when he returns, but said it would "probably" be a difficult decision to separate Kuznetsov from Ovechkin and Oshie.
“I think we’ll probably have a few different lines throughout the year,” Trotz said.
Regardless of what decision Trotz makes regarding his top line, this is a good problem for Washington to have.