October 24, 2014

Washington goaltender Braden Holtby believes the Capitals will be better off down the road after having to play their first three games without Nicklas Backstrom.

They should be fine in the immediate term, too, with the veteran playmaker showing no rust.

Backstrom will try to build on a strong debut and Alex Ovechkin looks to reach 900 career points Tuesday night against the Calgary Flames, who hope to avoid their worst start at home.

After missing camp and the start of the season following hip surgery in May, Backstrom appeared to be in midseason form Saturday with a goal and two assists in a 4-1 win over Carolina.

The center, who had an NHL-best 60 assists in 2014-15, finished with at least three points for the 49th time in his career. He has four goals and eight assists in his last six meetings with Calgary.

"I'm not sore or anything and that's a good thing," Backstrom told the team's official website. "Hopefully I can get even better after a couple of games."

The Capitals (3-1-0) totaled nine goals and averaged 27.3 shots in the first three of a season-opening four-game homestand before finishing with 34 shots Saturday. They also went 2 for 2 on the power play and are now 5 for 13 with the man advantage.

"We did a good job of trying to battle when he was out," said Holtby, who has started all four games. "And it will make us better in the long run I think, having those three games to realize what we can do without Nick, because he covers up so many mistakes that we make just by how good and how smart he is, how many key minutes he eats up. Really, you can't put a value on a guy like Nick."

Ovechkin helped carry the offense while Backstrom was sidelined and scored for the third time in as many games Saturday. The star left wing sits one point shy of 900 for his career and is six goals away from passing Sergei Fedorov (483) for tops among Russian-born players.

Ovechkin has 17 points (eight goals, nine assists) in 10 games versus Calgary (1-4-0).

The Capitals should be able to generate scoring chances as they open a three-game road swing against the Flames, who are in danger of dropping their first four home games for the first time.

Calgary ranks 28th in the league with 3.8 goals allowed per game after Jonas Hiller faced 28 shots in a 5-2 home loss to previously winless Edmonton on Saturday. Karri Ramo hasn't fared much better, allowing seven goals with a .904 save percentage in his two starts.

It hasn't helped that Calgary has totaled just 10 goals so far and averaged just 26.0 shots - fourth fewest in the league.

"I think in the offensive zone, we're being a little too pretty," center Sean Monahan told the team's official website. "We've got to put more pucks on net."

The Capitals have earned at least a point in five of the past six meetings, winning four of those.

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