WASHINGTON – For two years, the normal routine was Nicklas Backstrom setting up Alex Ovechkin. This season, it’s not uncommon to see it the other way around.
Ovechkin assisted on Backstrom’s two third-period goals Thursday night, shifting the momentum in the Washington Capitals’ 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators. Backstrom has 17 goals this season, on pace to obliterate his career high of 22.
“He showed a lot of leadership, because I thought we were floundering in the second period when it was 2-1,” Washington coach Bruce Boudreau said. “And he comes out in the third period and he gets two goals. He was just determined, and that’s what’s making him one of the best.”
The final tally from the game: two goals and an assist for Backstrom, one goal and two assists for Ovechkin. For the season, Backstrom has assisted on 10 of Ovechkin’s 27 goals, while the league’s two-time reigning MVP has helped Backstrom nine times. Backstrom has five multiple-goal games this season, compared to two in his first two seasons in the league.
Boyd Gordon and Mike Knuble scored in the first period for the Capitals, who are 2-0 since Ovechkin was made captain earlier this week. Chris Phillips scored for the Senators in the second period, and Jonathan Cheechoo added one late in the third.
Jose Theodore made 26 saves to get his first win since Dec. 15. The veteran, pushed this season for playing time by youngsters Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov, had played in only one of seven previous games. Neuvirth has handled most of the starts recently while Varlamov recovers from groin and knee injuries.
“It’s not an easy position,” Theodore said. “There’s always somebody behind you pushing. I didn’t play a lot the last couple of weeks, but I worked hard in practice. Tonight right off the bat I felt I controlled the game. I controlled my rebounds, which is something I’ve been working on.”
The Capitals improved to 14-3-3 at home, while the Senators remain ineffective on the road. Ottawa has lost 12 of 18 away games this season, including 11 of 14. They’ve lost seven straight at the Verizon Center, allowing four or more goals in each game.
For Ottawa coach Cory Clouston, it was Backstrom’s goal 26 seconds in the third period that turned the tide for good. The shot from near the goal line banked in off spinning goalie Pascal Leclaire to make the score 3-1.
“The first shift in the third period – that goal really seemed to break our back,” Clouston said.
Backstrom used his speed to beat Leclaire on a wraparound with 9:15 left to make it a three-goal lead, and Ovechkin added a celebratory goal in the final two minutes.
“We hung in there for a while,” Leclaire said. “They turned in on there in the third.”
NOTES: Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said it might be a week before Varlamov can play again. Varlamov was on his way back from a groin injury when he sprained a ligament in his right knee during a rehab start Sunday for the AHL affiliate Hershey. … Washington D Brian Pothier returned after missing a month with a cracked rib. … Gordon’s goal was his first since New Year’s Day 2009.