Back on Oct. 5, 2007, a 19-year-old Nicklas Backstrom made his NHL debut for the Capitals against the Thrashers in Atlanta. At 10:41 of the first period, Backstrom notched his first career assist, picking up the lone helper on a Michael Nylander power-play goal, the Caps' first goal of the 2007-08 season.
On Saturday night in Ottawa, Backstrom recorded the 500th assist of his NHL career, picking up the primary helper on T.J. Oshie's goal at 1:38 of the first frame. Nate Schmidt also assisted on the goal, which turned out to be the only goal of the contest in a 1-0 Washington victory over the Senators.
When Backstrom notched his first career assist in 2007, Oshie wasn't yet in the NHL. He was in his final season at U. of North Dakota. Schmidt was still in high school; he was a few months past his 16th birthday.
Nylander now has a son (William) playing for Toronto and another (Alexander) on the way. Alexander Nylander was Buffalo's first-round choice (eighth overall) in 2016. He is currently playing at AHL Rochester.
"He makes a lot of people look good over the years, 500 times you could say," says Schmidt of Backstrom. "He's a tremendous player. It's really special to be a part of it and to be in that picture of his 500th. Kudos to him. He's been the ultimate pro and he's such a leader for us. It gets the guys going when something like that happens. Congratulations to him."
Video: Backstrom, Schmidt, Holtby & Ovi on #CapsSens victory
Backstrom had no aspirations of achieving 500 assists or any such milestones back in those days. He just wanted to make the team and remain in the NHL.
"My hopes were just to play on the team," the splendid Caps center recalls. "That was my hope. I had expectations for myself, but I didn't think it was going to be that quick that I got a position on the team. I think I was lucky, too.
"Everything turned around when Bruce [Boudreau] came in and he believed in me. It's all about that, too. When you have a coach who believes in you, you're going to get a chance and stuff will happen. I have to thank him for believing in me and not playing me as Glen Hanlon did."
During his three seasons behind the Washington bench, current Caps coach Barry Trotz has been one of Backstrom's biggest boosters.
"I'm real happy," says Trotz. "I've been talking about how good Nick Backstrom is as a two-way player and one of the premier guys in the league. His 500th assist, that's pretty phenomenal. He is pretty elite and real special. The guys all love him in the room, and what he does for our hockey team is huge."
Backstrom scored his first NHL goal in Ottawa on Nov. 8, 2007, beating Ray Emery in the same building in which he would eventually notch his 500th career assist.
Not only did Backstrom reach the 500-assist plateau on Saturday, he became just the 10th Swedish-born player to do so, and he is the first player from the 2006 NHL Entry Draft class to do so and the second fastest Swede to achieve the milestone. Backstrom has had six seasons with 50 or more assists.
Backstrom reached 500 in his 691st career NHL contest; only Hockey Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg (551 games) got to 500 quicker among Swedish NHLers.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, Backstrom is one of only four NHL players who have debuted in the league since 1989 to reach 500 before playing 700 NHL games. He joins Forsberg, Sidney Crosby (554 games) and Jaromir Jagr (642 games) on that short and esteemed list.
What are Backstrom's thoughts about the elite company he's keeping in reaching that milestone?
"I haven't really thought about that," he says. "It's a nice accomplishment, but I think it's something that you are going to look back at when you get old and you retire. When you're active, you still feel like you're in the 'hockey bubble.' You're still trying to get better and to be better as a team, so you don't really think about individual stuff right now. But I'm sure I'll be proud of it one day, when I retire."
Hopefully, that's a long way off on the horizon. Congratulations to the classy Caps pivot, and here's to the next 500 helpers.
Video: WSH@OTT: Holtby turns in 30 saves for shutout
Whitewashington - Braden Holtby stopped all 30 shots he faced on Saturday in the Caps' 1-0 win over the Senators, spinning his second shutout in as many starts. Holtby now has five shutouts this season and 28 during his NHL career.
Five of Holtby's career shutouts have come by a 1-0 score, two of them this season. Saturday's shutout in Ottawa was his second 1-0 road shutout; he blanked the Devils in New Jersey on March 25, 2016, with John Carlson supplying the game-winning goal in overtime.
The only other Caps goaltender ever to shutout the Sens by a 1-0 score in Ottawa was Brent Johnson on April 1, 2006. Playing in front of a mediocre Caps team, Johnson had to make 46 saves to earn that whitewash, including 16 in the third period.
Olie Kolzig holds the Caps record for most 1-0 shutouts in a career (nine). Kolzig is the only Washington netminder ever to author 1-0 shutouts in consecutive games; he did so at Florida on Jan. 12, 2002 and against Boston on Jan. 14, 2002.
Three Goals, Two Wins - The Caps have played Ottawa twice in the last week, and the Sens limited them to a total of just three goals in those two games. But the Caps held the Senators to just one goal in the two contests, winning 2-1 and 1-0 decisions in regulation.
"They clogged it up really well and they were really trying to slow us down," says Schmidt of the Senators. "That's been our MO lately, getting speed through the neutral zone and they did a really good job of taking that away.
"It really comes down to our [defense] doing a really good job. [The Sens] have really talented forwards over there, and I thought we did a really good job of limiting their opportunities on the other side of the puck. As much as they were doing it to us, I thought we did a good job of doing it to their forwards as well."
Down On The Farm - The AHL Hershey Bears hosted the Utica Comets at Giant Center on Saturday night. Hershey came out on the short end of a 3-2 overtime decision.
Paul Carey staked the Bears to an early 1-0 lead with his 10th goal of the season at 5:49 of the first with help from Stanislav Galiev and Hubert Labrie. After the Comets pulled even later in the frame, Chandler Stephenson's unassisted goal - his sixth of the season - restored Hershey's one-goal advantage at 2-1 with 2:21 left in the first.
Utica tied the game at 2-2 in the first minute of the third, and the Comets won it on Curtis Valk's goal just 21 seconds into the extra session.
Joe Cannata made 20 saves in the Hershey nets in a losing effort, falling to 9-3-4 on the season.
Down a level, the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays earned a 3-2 shootout win over the Greenville Swamp Rabbits in Greenville on Saturday night.
Derek DeBlois and Tim McGauley - his first pro goal - scored for South Carolina and Parker Milner made 24 saves to improve to 16-5-1 on the season.
The Stingrays are in Atlanta on Sunday afternoon to take on the Gladiators.
By The Numbers - Matt Niskanen led the Caps with 23:39 in ice time on Saturday … Lars Eller led the Caps with six shots on net and nine shot attempts; he accounted for 30 percent of Washington's single-game season-low 20 shots on goal in the game … Tom Wilson and Brooks Orpik led the Caps with three hits each … Carlson led the Capitals with six blocked shots … Evgeny Kuznetsov won eight of 11 face-offs (73%).