clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

As Goes Nick Backstrom, So Goes Washington's Power Play

New, comments

Nicklas Backstrom finds himself in the company of power play quarterback elites.

Rob Carr/Getty Images

Nicklas Backstrom is pretty damn smooth when the Caps are a man to the good, but you already knew that. In fact, since coming into the League in 2007, only Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and Sidney Crosby have more power play points than Backstrom's 269. Ovechkin is, of course, the beneficiary of Backstrom's handiwork and vice versa.

What you may not know is just how important Backstrom is to this year's power-play unit, currently ranked third in the NHL by conversion rate. The Caps have knocked home 19 goals at five-on-four so far, and Backstrom has been on the ice for nine of those... which may not sound like a tremendous amount, but note that the Caps tallied three power-play goals before Backstrom returned to the lineup for the fourth game of the season. So since Backstrom's return he has been on the ice for nine of 16 extra-man goals, and most impressively, he has tallied a point on every single one.

Now on the one hand, that sample size isn't exactly trustworthy; on the other hand, the guy's gotten a point on every goal for which he's been on the ice, on the first unit on the third-best man-up squad in professional hockey. Backstrom is certainly a candidate for regression by this measure, but the company he's currently in reinforces the notion that this Swede pivot is an elite power play quarterback.

Further to the point about sample sizes, we can take data from the last three seasons and see that Backstrom is tops amongst players who've seen more than 400 minutes of 5v4 TOI. The guys behind him? Claude Giroux, Patrick Kane, Shea Weber, and John Tavares. It's evident that Backstrom is an outlier-type player.

Here's a look at all 13 players in the League who have a 100% individual points percentage at five on four in 2015:

Of these players, the only ones who have been in on more power-play goals than Nicky are Patrick Kane and Erik Karlsson, who respectively quarterback the fifth- and fourth-best power plays in the league. If you're looking for comparables in the elite echelons of power-play quarterbacking society, it's hard to do better than that.

But these guys have also almost all spent more time on the power play than Nicklas, probably partially due to Backstrom missing a couple games at the start of the year, and partially due to the fact that most squads don't have an Evgeny Kuznetsov to turn to when their Nick Backstrom needs some oxygen.

Backstrom is the most productive of these players with his minutes, with only Kane sniffing his production level:

Backstrom's productivity at five-on-four is actually third best in the league, behind only Patrice Bergeron and Keith Yandle. And who comes in fourth? Evgeny Kuznetsov.

Ultimately, none of this tells us anything we don't already know, but with Alex Ovechkin having such a reputation for a power play savant, it's clear as ever that Nick Backstrom's expertise from the half boards is more than an ancillary contributor to that success.