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Capitals' Backstrom quietly puts up big-time numbers

by Adam Vingan

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Midway through a first-period power play against the Edmonton Oilers last Wednesday, Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom contemplated his options.

Near the right half-wall where he orchestrates the Capitals power play, Backstrom's stick blade danced around the puck before he settled on defenseman John Carlson, who was lurking in the high slot with his stick cocked.

Backstrom slid an effortless pass in Carlson's direction, and the defenseman fired the puck past Edmonton goaltender Ben Scrivens to tie the game 1-1.

The assist, his 500th NHL point, was quintessential Backstrom: understated but effective. The 26-year-old's career has been characterized by such subtlety, an extension of his reserved personality.

"He is sneaky good. I knew he was, but you appreciate it more when you see it every day," said defenseman Matt Niskanen, who signed with Washington on July 1. "Quietly is always in the right spot, always has the puck. A lot of times, it doesn't look like he's doing a whole lot, but he has it and he's just waiting for someone to be out of position or find a teammate busting, and he's really, really good at getting people the puck in a position where they can make something happen."

Defenseman Brooks Orpik, who regularly matched up against Backstrom as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, said, "He's not a real, real loud guy, but he's a guy you can tell right away all his teammates respect him a ton."

The Capitals have won three of five coming into their game against the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TVA SPORTS, SN1). Backstrom has two goals and five assists through eight games.

Throughout the season, coach Barry Trotz has heralded Backstrom's all-around acumen, previously referring to him as "one of the most complete players in the National Hockey League."

"I'm a big advocate of his," said Trotz, who is in his first season as Capitals coach. "Doesn't get any fanfare, doesn't get a lot of the love that he should around the League. I think he likes being under the radar. That's probably why he doesn't like me talking about him, but I think he deserves it. He's earned that respect around the League and I think other people should know it."

Backstrom does not mind such praise, but has always been indifferent to attracting that sort of personal attention.

"That's not who I am," Backstrom said. "I like to come here and do the best I can, work hard every day. And I'm here to learn too."

Spending nearly three-quarters of his career even-strength ice time with Alex Ovechkin, a bona fide superstar, has allowed Backstrom to stay out of the spotlight without difficulty.

Backstrom and Ovechkin juxtapose each other seamlessly, with Ovechkin's uncontainable exuberance contrasted by Backstrom's restrained elegance. The two, however, will always be intertwined; Backstrom has assisted on about 44 percent of Ovechkin's 329 regular-season goals since Backstrom's rookie season in 2007-08.

Bolstered by Backstrom and Ovechkin, the Capitals power play ranks third (25.9 percent) in the League this season after finishing tied for first in 2013-14.

Delving into Backstrom's career statistics uncovers a quietly impressive resume.

Nine players have more points than Backstrom since he entered the League. Four have more assists. None had more primary power-play assists in his first seven seasons, and only Ovechkin has more power-play points.

Five active players needed fewer games than Backstrom's 501 to reach 500 career points: Sidney Crosby, Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Jaromir Jagr and Dany Heatley. He is also the first player selected in the 2006 NHL Draft to reach that milestone, and that class includes Phil Kessel, Jonathan Toews and Claude Giroux.

Yet Backstrom, unlike the aforementioned players, has never been an All-Star. Outside of a second-place finish in Calder Trophy voting in 2007-08, he has never received serious consideration for any individual awards either.

That lack of individual recognition has never bothered Backstrom. In fact, he prefers it that way.

"I only have one goal in my career and that's the Stanley Cup," he said. "Like if something else happens during my career, that's just a bonus, but I don't take too much time to think about that, to be honest with you.

"We have one goal here together, and that's go to the Final and win it and win the Cup. That's what motivates me and that's what makes me love coming here every day."

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