NHL

What Nicklas Backstrom's Return Means for the Washington Capitals

Analyzing the influence of Nicklas Backstrom on the Capitals' performance.

Nicklas Backstrom beat expectations of a four-game absence on Saturday by skating in the Washington Capitals' 4-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Washington Capitals, being Stanley Cup hopefuls, immediately felt the positive impact of their top center's return to ice. 

In his first game back to action, Backstrom registered 1 goal on 2 total shots attempted and 2 power play assists in 15 minutes of time on the ice. However, the most important component of Backstrom's influence on the Capitals' performance is the danger he adds to what is arguably the best power play in the NHL. 

The Capitals' top power play unit boasts last year's leading goal scorer in Alex Ovechkin (53) and assists leader in Backstrom (60).

The data below shows how dangerous the Capitals' power play was relative to the rest of the league last year. 

Team Power Play Goals   Power Play Opportunities   Percentage
Washington 60 237 25.3
Detroit 70 294 23.8
Philadelphia 60 256 23.4
St. Louis 56 251 22.3
Columbus 53 244 21.7


To explain further, last year, half of Backstrom's league-leading assists were powerplay assists (30) and Ovechkin has led the NHL in power play goals for the last three consecutive seasons (25, 24, and 16). Backstrom's contribution has put Washington's power play up to third best in the league at 38.5%. Expect it to increase over the course of the season. 

Additionally, during the Capitals' game on Saturday, Backstrom's Corsi For Percentage and Fenwick For Percentage were 58.1% and 65.2%, respectively, meaning that the Capitals were in control of the puck in shooting situations more times than not when Backstrom was on the ice. 

Look for Nicklas Backstrom to have a huge year for the Capitals as they look to win their first ever Stanley Cup. If they are to have success, the Capitals will have to leverage the strength of their deadly power play and the ability of marquee players such as Ovechkin and Backstrom to perform in clutch situations. 

Washington is currently ranked sixth in our power rankings and own an 8.28% chance to win the Stanley Cup, the fifth best chance in the NHL.