Backstrom, Wilson return as Capitals blank Blue Jackets, 1-0

Jan 8, 2023, 2:47 AM | Updated: 7:25 pm
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Gavin Bayreuther (15) and Washington Capitals right wing Garnet Ha...

Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Gavin Bayreuther (15) and Washington Capitals right wing Garnet Hathaway (21) fight during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)

(AP Photo/Terrance Williams)

              Washington Capitals players celebrate defenseman Erik Gustafsson first period goal during an NHL hockey game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)
            
              Washington Capitals right wing Garnet Hathaway (21) checks Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Marcus Bjork during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)
            
              Columbus Blue Jackets center Liam Foudy (19) competes for the puck against Washington Capitals left wing Conor Sheary during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)
            
              Washington Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov (92) competes for the puck against Columbus Blue Jackets center Jack Roslovic (96), defenseman Erik Gudbranson and left wing Patrik Laine (29) during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)
            
              Washington Capitals defenseman Erik Gustafsson (56) in action during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)
            
              Washington Capitals right wing Tom Wilson (43) looks on during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)
            
              Washington Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom (19) plays during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)
            
              Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Gavin Bayreuther (15) and Washington Capitals right wing Garnet Hathaway (21) fight during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson made their season debuts and the Washington Capitals beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 1-0 on Sunday night.

It marked the first time Backstrom and Wilson took the ice at Capital One Arena since the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs in May. Both underwent major procedures in the offseason — Backstrom had hip resurfacing surgery and Wilson had ACL surgery.

“You know, after an injury, it’s a little bit different. You’re expecting your body to show up but you never really know. I tried to put in all the work I could, and it held up, we got through it,” Wilson said. “It felt better as the game went on. The guys battled for Nicky and I to get it done, and Kuemps played really well, and it’s nice to get the first one out of the way. But it was a really cool experience.”

Following nearly eight months of rehabilitation, both were cleared to make their long-awaited returns and were integrated quickly into the top six. Backstrom slotted in as the first-line center between Alex Ovechkin and Conor Sheary while Wilson played on the second-line right wing with Dylan Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Both also got time on the power play, with Backstrom running the half-wall on the top unit and Wilson getting a look on the second unit.

“It meant the world, and obviously I missed this and with not knowing what my future was going to hold, just coming back and playing, it feels great,” Backstrom said. “I couldn’t ask for anything else.”

Darcy Kuemper continued his strong play between the pipes as he made 37 saves and held off the swarming Blue Jackets for his fourth shutout of the season and second in five games.

Despite the Capitals getting two of their stars back in the mix, the ice wasn’t exactly tilted in their favor, as Columbus, coming off a 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes, dominated in shots on goal and limited Washington’s chances at 5-on-5 and on the man advantage. However, Erik Gustafsson’s goal just 2:43 minutes into the game secured the win for the Capitals.

“Good teams can find a way (to win) in a lot of different ways. Tonight was one of them,” Kuemper said.

Elvis Merzlikins made 18 saves for Columbus, who have now dropped 10 of the last 12 games.

“That’s a game you want to win so badly, I think. That was one of the games for 60 minutes we put it all together … that’s the unfortunate part,” Blue Jackets defenseman Andrew Peeke said. “Sometimes you got to tip your cap to the goalie, and we just got to take what the game gave us and move on from that.”

NOTES: Gustafsson scored his seventh goal of the season, all of them in the last 11 games. … Garnet Hathaway and Gavin Bayreuther dropped the gloves in the first period … Anthony Mantha was a healthy scratch for the first time in his Capitals tenure, as he and Nicolas Aube-Kubel sat out with Backstrom and Wilson returning.

UP NEXT

Blue Jackets: Visit the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday.

Capitals: Visit the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday in the first half of a home-and-home series.

___

AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

The Meyer Shank Racing team, from left, Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, Michael Shank, Colin Bra...
Associated Press

Meyer Shank Racing aims for 2nd consecutive Rolex 24 victory

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Michael Shank bookended last year’s sports car season by winning the most prestigious endurance race in North America and then the IMSA championship. In between, he expanded his IndyCar program and followed a scrupulous plan to build Meyer Shank Racing into an elite motorsports organization. Now he’s set to lead […]
15 hours ago
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan speaks at a news conference before an NFL football pra...
Associated Press

Final 4 NFL teams all feature offensive-minded head coaches

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Chris Foerster had spent nearly two decades as an assistant in the NFL when he first crossed paths with Kyle Shanahan long before he became one of the NFL’s most-accomplished play-callers. Shanahan was in his third year as an offensive coordinator in the NFL when Foerster joined head coach Mike […]
2 days ago
FILE - Car owner Bryan Herta in the pit area during practice for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at ...
Associated Press

Herta wants to run Wickens in next year’s Indianapolis 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indianapolis 500 as early as 2024 — a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver. Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie […]
2 days ago
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes stretches during an NFL football workout Wednesday, ...
Associated Press

Joe Burrow, Bengals go for 4-0 vs. KC in AFC title rematch

The Bengals and Chiefs have become familiar foes. When the teams face off Sunday in Kansas City to determine the AFC champion, it’ll be their fourth meeting in 393 days and a rematch of last year’s conference title game. The No. 1 seed Chiefs (15-3) dropped all three games, including a 27-24 loss in Cincinnati […]
2 days ago
Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick reacts following an NFL divisional round playoff foot...
Associated Press

49ers-Eagles NFC championship matchup has old-school feel

Nasty defenses. Strong rushing offenses. Physical in the trenches. This 49ers-Eagles matchup in the NFC championship game Sunday has all the elements of old-school football. But don’t overlook all the playmakers at the skill positions on both teams. Philadelphia has running back Miles Sanders, wide receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith and tight end Dallas […]
2 days ago
FILE - Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich walks onto the field before an NFL football game a...
Associated Press

Panthers hire Frank Reich over Steve Wilks as head coach

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Frank Reich is returning to the Carolina Panthers as their coach, more than 27 years after starting the franchise’s first game at quarterback in 1995. The Panthers announced Thursday they’ve agreed to terms with Reich to become the sixth head coach in franchise history. An introductory news conference was set for […]
2 days ago
Backstrom, Wilson return as Capitals blank Blue Jackets, 1-0