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Backstrom thinks Capitals are in best position yet

by Dan Rosen

TORONTO -- Nicklas Backstrom has been through this dance before, the waltz of trying to meet and, if at all possible, exceed the high expectations placed on the Washington Capitals from outside sources, including media and fans.

It never ends well. Or, at least, it hasn't yet.

The Capitals have a history of playing well in the regular season only to flame out in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They haven't made it out of the Eastern Conference Second Round in 10 seasons with Alex Ovechkin despite winning their division five times and finishing second in it twice more, including last season.

They feel great, feel invincible, yet fall. It's become the Capitals' M.O. They have lost in Game 7 in six of their seven playoff appearances in the Ovechkin era. It's happened three times in the first round, including in 2010, when they were the Presidents' Trophy winners.

However, Backstrom, forever an optimist, has a feeling the result can be different this season, when the Capitals are again facing high expectations that are a result of a strong first season under coach Barry Trotz and the key additions of forwards Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie, who could take up the two right wing positions in the Capitals' top-six forward group this season.

"I feel like we're playing and can play a lot better as a team this time we're feeling it as opposed to the last few times," Backstrom told

Backstrom's basis for that feeling mostly has to do with how Trotz and his staff molded the Capitals last season. There was structure in place that didn't seem to be in place previously, whether it was Bruce Boudreau, Dale Hunter or Adam Oates behind the bench.

Washington's defense last season was as consistent as it ever has been in the past decade with John Carlson, Brooks Orpik, Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen forming an enviable top-four.

The Capitals appeared to have finally solved their long-standing No. 2 center problem with Evgeny Kuznetsov, who had 37 points in 80 games. Andre Burakovsky is another potential option to be the No. 2 center.

Washington hasn't had a legit No. 2 center, let alone two of them, since it acquired an aging Sergei Fedorov at the 2008 NHL Trade Deadline. Fedorov, who was 38 at the time the Capitals got him, played one more season with Washington.

The Capitals' goaltending, led by Braden Holtby, was as solid as it has ever been last season. Holtby was first in the NHL in games played (73), shots against (2,044) and saves (1,887) along with being second in wins (41) and shutouts (9), fifth in goals-against average (2.22) and seventh in save percentage (.923).

The Capitals were seventh in the NHL in goals against (199).

Holtby signed a five-year, $30.5 million contract on July 24.

This is not to forget about arguably the two most important players in D.C. -- Ovechkin and Backstrom.

Ovechkin has led the NHL in goals in each of the past three seasons, totaling 136 goals in 207 games. Backstrom led the NHL in assists last season with 60. He was third in 2013-14 with 61. He was also third in 2012-13 with 40.

"Obviously we have high expectations of ourselves, big goals, but I always say, 'It looks good on paper, but you've gotta play for it,'" Backstrom said. "That's something we need to be aware of because we have a really tough division, really tough teams. It's going to be tough, but we want to be up there and we want to be an even better team than we've been. I think we're capable of it."


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