Nicklas Backstrom posts assist in long-awaited season debut, but Washington Capitals fall in OT

The Washington Capitals welcomed a star back to the lineup Wednesday and temporarily lost one at the same time.

On a night when Evgeny Kuznetsov had to sit out due to the league's COVID-19 protocol, Nicklas Backstrom returned and authored the standard type of game befit of the veteran.

Activated Wednesday afternoon, after missing the start of the season with a left hip injury, Backstrom picked up an assist in the 5-4 overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks. The skilled forward, who traditionally occupies top-line minutes, skated on 18 shifts, totaling 18:04 time on the ice. He ended with five shots and two hits.

"Everything felt good,'' he said after the loss. "The hip felt good. It's just that I haven't played a game in a while, so it's going to take a couple of games to get my timing back and stuff.''

Backstrom, who has been patient with his preparation, skated Wednesday morning with the team and capped off what's been a long road back. The Swedish player, who turned 34 last month, had a team-high 38 assists and 53 points in 55 games last season.

"I thought that he made good plays out there,'' Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. "He looked good. It was typical Nick. He's smart. He sees the ice. He sees the plays. I thought he played a good game.''

Unfortunately for Laviolette, Backstrom's return didn't help his team's unbalanced roster. While Washington also announced that defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and center Nic Dowd had been removed from the NHL's COVID-19 protocol, forward Anthony Mantha was placed on long-term injured reserve.

And coupled with the loss of Kuznetsov, who has nine goals and 21 assists in 28 games this season, the Capitals were a touch short-handed. Washington also has forward Garnet Hathaway in the protocol.

Chicago capitalized, as Caleb Jones scored his first goal of the season 1:21 into overtime, lifting the Blackhawks, who also defeated the Capitals 4-3 in a shootout on Dec. 2.

In the loss, Alex Ovechkin scored his NHL record-tying 274th career power-play goal in the second period, matching Dave Andreychuk's NHL record, but Chicago responded with three goals in 34 seconds.

Washington did manage a point, however, and in the see-saw Metropolitan Division, the Capitals are now two points ahead of the second-place Carolina Hurricanes.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.