For a moment, try to forget the fact that Alexander Ovechkin has scored 13 goals in his last 10 games. Forget that he is second in the NHL with 23 goals. Now, remember Nicklas Backstrom, the guy who tallied 101 points back in 2009-10. In case you thought he disappeared, he has come out full throttle.
Backstrom has 17 points in his last 11, including 14 assists to go along with three goals and a plus-eight rating. This comes after Backstrom started off the year miserably, with only eight points in the teams first 12 games. Washington was 3-8-1 at that point in the abbreviated 2013 campaign. Since then, the Capitals are 16-9-1 and one of the hottest teams in the NHL.
In his last nine games, Ovechkin has tallied 17 points, scoring 11 goals and adding six assists. Although, a lot of Ovechkin’s success can be attributed to Backstrom, who is second on the team with 39 points and first with 33 assists on the season.
On Saturday night in sunny Sunrise, Florida, Ovechkin tallied a hat-trick. Backstrom assisted on all three of the goals. Ever since new bench boss Adam Oates decided it was time for the dynamic duo to suit up on the same line, the Capitals have had a steady climb to the top of the Southeast division. Add a healthy Marcus Johansson into the mix, who handed Ovechkin two helpers of his own Saturday, and the Capitals have one of the top lines in hockey. Ovechkin, Backstrom, and Johansson combined for nine points against the Panthers, as the Capitals held on for a 4-3 victory over their divisional rivals.
Since Johansson came back from an injury that held him out for 12 games this year, he has stepped in as a nice complement to Ovechkin and Backstrom. Johansson has tallied 12 points in his last nine games, allowing the trio to combine for 34 points in that span.
The Capitals currently have 10 games left in the regular season, with seven of them coming at home. They are tied for first place with the Winnipeg Jets with 40 points for their division lead. The difference here, is the Jets only have eight games left, giving the Capitals two at hand.
Three of the Jets remaining games come against teams who would be in the playoffs if the season ended today (Washington, the New York Islanders, and Montreal). The Capitals will have six games against playoff hopefuls (Ottawa twice, Montreal twice, Toronto, and Boston). They are 1-4-0 against those opponents this year.
If the Capitals are going to continue to build upon their momentum, they are going to need Martin Erat to get healthy. Their trade deadline acquisition suffered a lower body injury in a gruesome collision with Eric Gudbrandson on Saturday night. The hit caused the referee’s to hand Gudbrandson a five minute major and a game misconduct. Erat did not return after being helped off the ice by the Capitals trainer and Ovechkin. If Gudbranson is not suspended for the hit, the NHL’s disciplinary committee will have their integrity in serious question.
Matt Schreiber is the Florida Panthers Lead Writer for The Hockey Writers. He grew up just outside of Washington, DC before moving to Boca Raton, FL, where he currently resides. He also covers the NHL for Bleacher Report.