With eight wins in their past 10 games the Washington Capitals are back in their customary spot at the top of the Metropolitan Division.
Alex Ovechkin is one of the league’s leading goal scorers, Tom Wilson suddenly can not be stopped offensively, and they are continuing to pile up wins even though they have been hit by some injuries to key players in recent weeks that have sidelined Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie.
That is a lot of business as usual, especially as it relates to Ovechkin and the team’s place in the standings.
Also business as usual is the fact Nicklas Backstrom is dominating and not getting much attention for it.
His goal in Sunday’s 6-5 loss to the Anaheim Ducks was his 10th of the season and gives him 33 points through the team’s first 26 games. That includes 20 points in the past 15 games alone.
This is not only the best start to a season offensively for Backstrom in his career, it is one of the best starts any Capitals player has had over the past 30 years.
Going as far back as the 1987-88 season, only one Capitals player — Ovechkin with 34 during the 2008-09 season — has ever recorded more points than Backstrom’s 33 through the first 26 games of a season (via the Hockey-Reference database).
His current point-per-game pace puts him on a 104-point pace over 82 games and would exceed his previous career high of 101 during the 2009-10 season. Just for comparison, he only had 24 points through the first 26 games of that season. Given that goal-scoring is on the rise again throughout the league, and that Backstrom is playing sensational hockey in all phases it is not out of the question to think he could maintain that pace and set a new personal best.
It is also another reminder as to how consistently great Backstrom has been throughout his career.
He is one of just two players (Sidney Crosby and Tyler Seguin being the others) to record at least 70 points in each of the previous five seasons, while no one has more assists than his 613 since he entered the league at the start of the 2007-08 season (he is just behind Connor McDavid and Crosby on a per-game basis, but still at an elite level).
It wouldn’t be fair to say he’s been completely overlooked throughout his career, because he is a very highly regarded player and a true star in the league. But it is still probably true that he hasn’t always received the recognition he has fully deserved for being one of the 10 best offensive players in the league with an outstanding defensive game to match it.
He is one of those players that will always be underappreciated in his time — probably because he just so happens to be teammates with a legend — and then 10 or 15 years after he retires we’ll look back and say, “wow, that guy was pretty damn great.”
So with him off to one of the best starts of his career for the defending Stanley Cup champs, let’s just say it now.