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Backstrom of Capitals mired in worst scoring slump of NHL career

Center will try to end seven-game point drought against Penguins

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / NHL.com Staff Writer

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Nicklas Backstrom doesn't hide from the numbers.

The Washington Capitals center called them "reality," and the harsh reality is that he's gone seven consecutive games without a point, which is the longest drought of his 11-season NHL career.

It's not something Backstrom or the Capitals are used to, but coach Barry Trotz is keeping things in perspective heading into a Metropolitan Division game against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Capital One Arena on Friday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports, NBCSWA, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV).

"Trust me, if there's one player I don't have to worry a whole heck of a lot about, it's Nick Backstrom," Trotz said Thursday. "Nick Backstrom brings a pretty good game every night, and I don't judge his game on goals and assists. He's probably the last player I have to worry about."

The other side of the reality is that Trotz usually matches Backstrom's line against the opposition's top offensive line. On Friday, that will mean going head-to-head with Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. Against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday, it will be Connor McDavid.

The last time the Capitals faced the Oilers on Oct. 28 in Edmonton, Backstrom helped hold McDavid to a first-period assist in a 5-2 victory. Even though Backstrom had no points in that win, he played a pivotal role.

"[Backstrom] has done a really good job," Trotz said. "I know there's a lot been said about not scoring or whatever. To me, it's about winning, and he's had all of the tough matchups. He's still creating good offense, but he hasn't got the numbers. I don't think I have to tell you what I think of Nicklas Backstrom. He's one of the best two-way centermen in the National Hockey League and he should be a Selke [Trophy] candidate every year."

Backstrom, 29, also judges by wins. So when the Capitals were on a three-game winning streak, he wasn't worried about the zeros on his score line after each of those games. But being held without a point did bother him after the Capitals' 3-1 loss at the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday.

"I haven't scored in seven [games], a point or anything," he said. "We lost last game. Obviously, you're mad when you're losing and you're not scoring, but when you're winning then you don't think about it too much. I realize that I've got to be better and I've got to create more chances, produce and be one of the leading guys on the team. So I've just got to find a way."

That Trotz has been using Backstrom in defensive situations is a contributing factor. In his past seven games, Backstrom has taken 40 defensive-zone faceoffs, 46 neutral-zone faceoffs and 23 offensive-zone faceoffs (per NaturalStatTrick.com).

The faceoff breakdown demonstrates that Backstrom hasn't been starting many shifts in the offensive zone, but he doesn't use that or being matched against opponents' top offensive players as an excuse.

"We like to get that challenge. We like to play against those guys," he said. "I think for us it's just to find that balance to play good defensively and try to score and create chances."

Although Trotz said he wasn't concerned about Backstrom, he did tweak his line combinations at practice Thursday, moving rookie Chandler Stephenson up to play on the left side with Backstrom and T.J. Oshie and shifting rookie Jakub Vrana down to Stephenson's old spot at left wing on the third line with Lars Eller and Tom Wilson.

"I just think that [Stephenson] might be a good complement for [Backstrom and Oshie] going forward here," Trotz said. "So we just tried that in practice today. If you watched last game, we probably used five different people on the left side with [Backstrom], so we're just looking for a little spark there."

Backstrom ranks third on the Capitals with 12 points (three goals, nine assists) and Oshie is fourth with 11 points (six goals, five assists). Alex Ovechkin (13 goals, five assists) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (three goals, 15 assists), share the team lead with 18 points each.

Video: WSH@PHI: Backstrom beats Elliott on a partial break

Oshie hasn't been producing much offensively either. He has no goals and two assists in his past eight games.

The Capitals have been getting production from other players -- Ovechkin has seven points (three goals, four assists) in the past seven games, including goals in three consecutive games -- but Backstrom knows he and Oshie have to do their part offensively for Washington to win consistently.

"I think sometimes when you haven't scored, you're overthinking situations," Backstrom said. "So me and [Oshie] talked about it, we've just got to not think about it. We've just got to go out and play, play the system right, play the right way, work hard and hopefully get rewarded."

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