Washington Capitals: Pressure Back On Nicklas Backstrom In The Middle

Nicklas Backstrom
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The Washington Capitals let Mike Ribeiro walk in free agency, despite a strong season that included 49 points in 48 games. While he’s not always mistaken as the greatest guy to have around in the locker room, there’s no doubt that his absence will be felt in the lineup for the Caps.

From a performance standpoint, Ribeiro was one of their only consistent performers in 2013. Even when the Capitals got off to that miserable start early on in the year, Ribeiro kept producing. A creative center with the puck really solidified and helps that second line for Washington.

Another thing it did was take the pressure off of Nicklas Backstrom as the no. 1 guy. In 2013-14, the Capitals will go back to not having a consistent offensive threat in the middle of that second line, meaning the pressure will shift back to Backstrom to star on the top line.

Not that he hasn’t been able to do that throughout his career. He’s been an incredibly steady performer, particularly in terms of his playmaking ability, going back to his rookie season back in 2007-2008. But having Ribeiro on that second line opened things up a bit more for him. Now the pressure returns.

The Capitals become easier to prepare for without a strong 1-2 punch in the middle. Backstrom will likely do what he’s always done: win about half of his draws and feast on opposing lineups next to Alex Ovechkin. But if he has an off night, or a weak stretch, there’s not really a fallback threat for the Caps.

Brooks Laich will likely take over again in the middle for the Capitals, after missing pretty much all of the 2013 season. He’s a solid player and a serviceable guy in the middle of the top six, but he’s not Ribeiro. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see the Capitals’ offense take a bit of a step back without him in the mix next season.