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Caps' Backstrom seeks to regain scoring touch

by Corey Masisak
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Nicklas Backstrom is the top passer on the Washington Capitals and one of the best in the world at setting up teammates for goal-scoring opportunities.

He's counted on to score goals as well, and his 33 a season ago proved he can do that at an elite level. But Backstrom hasn't been putting the puck in the net lately -- his goalless streak reached 14 games, dating back to the regular season, as Washington dropped a 4-2 decision to Tampa Bay in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series.

"I should have been scoring a lot more goals -- that is for sure," Backstrom said. "Of course it is bugging me. It is really frustrating, but at the same time you can't really do anything. You just keep working hard and try to go to the net and create the other chances."

Washington's franchise has been anchored for the past four seasons by four young stars -- the "Young Guns," thanks to a clever poster produced by the club's marketing department.

Alex Ovechkin leads the Capitals with 6 points in their first six postseason games. Alexander Semin paces them with 4 goals, including Washington's first tally Friday night. Mike Green has, after a regular season that was short-circuited by injuries, produced like a No. 1 defenseman with 5 points in six games.

That leaves Backstrom, who has no goals and only 1 assist in the six games.

"I think you take the scoring away and he's doing a really good job," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He still plays the most of any minutes of our forwards. But I think he's squeezing the stick pretty tight. He wants to do really well. He doesn't give the puck away or anything like that. I think he's trying to be too cute and make the perfect play. And it's taking a toll on his scoring."

Backstrom is averaging 23:21 of ice time, 11 seconds more than Ovechkin and sixth in the League among forwards. With Mike Knuble out of the lineup he has had a bigger role killing penalties, and the Capitals are 22-for-24 on the PK to this point. He's also been on the ice for only three goals against at even strength.

All of this points to a guy who has been solid in his own zone, but as Washington's No. 1 center -- and one who is now making $6.7 million per season -- there are heightened expectations even if he's still only 23 years old.

"Yeah, absolutely -- and it should be too," Backstrom said of the increased pressure to produce offensively. "I put higher expectations on myself too. I don't really read what the media said but I have high expectations on myself and I should be leading out there and producing."

Backstrom had a great chance to score when Ovechkin found him in the slot Friday night, but he pushed the shot wide left of the net. He's had a couple of beautiful passes this postseason where the recipient wasn't able to finish the play.

Backstrom's offensive production dipped this regular season for the first time in his four-year NHL career. That was attributed to the team's overall drop in offense as the Capitals committed to a more defensive approach.

Still, the Capitals are not likely to reach their full potential in this postseason without more from their franchise center.

"I think you can give him some ideas," Boudreau said. "I gave him some ideas yesterday. And I'll talk to him in a few minutes and tell him what I think he was doing last night. But as a guy that took a lot of pride in his offensive game I knew when things weren't going right for me it was always because I was trying to be too great or too cute or not shooting the puck enough. And I think when things don't go right you just got to get back to the basics."

Added Backstrom: "I think if you want to score goals you have to go in front of the net and try to score those dirty goals. That's what I have to do -- try to create my own chances."

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