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 visiting 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.
Ovechkin nearly made it three games in a row without a goal, which would have matched his longest drought of the season
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.
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.
"We hung in there for a while," Leclaire said. "They turned it on there in the third."
Gordon started the scoring by putting in a rebound while falling forward onto the ice for his first goal since Friday. Knuble's wrister made it 2-0, and the Capitals squandered several chances to pad the lead in the second period. Ovechkin had a near breakaway go awry when he lost his footing, and his helmet came off during a mad scramble that left a pile of bodies in the crease during a power play.
Phillips got credit for a goal that deflected off Washington defenceman Mike Green's skate to pull Ottawa within one, but Backstrom made it 3-1 just 26 seconds into the third period with a shot from near the goal line that banked in off spinning goalie Pascal Leclaire.