Baby Steps: Backstrom Skating Again

Posted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel

[/caption] It’s been more than two months since Caps center Nicklas Backstrom was the victim of an egregious and superfluous elbow courtesy of Rene Bourque, then of the Calgary Flames and currently of the Montreal Canadiens. That hit occurred in the third period of a Jan. 3 game at Verizon Center. After the blow, Backstrom took another shift or two before retiring for the night. He felt well enough to participate in a couple of practices and to accompany the team on a West Coast trip, but he was sent home on the morning of Jan. 9 and has not played since that Jan. 3 game. Aside from one brief twirl on the practice sheet later in January, we haven’t seen much of Backstrom since. That’s why the report of him skating in full gear yesterday at Kettler while his teammates were on Long Island and the actual sight of him doing so again today is such welcome news for the Capitals and their fans. “I’ve been improving a lot,” says Backstrom. “I don’t have the same feeling as I had when I first got the hit. We’re on a program right now and I just got back from Sweden It feels better. I started skating. You’ve got to see where you are.” Backstrom is feeling much better than he was in the immediate aftermath of the Bourque incident. “It’s day and night, I think,” says the Caps’ center. “It’s different. I feel better now, too. That’s a good sign, I think. But I don’t know anything else. I just know that I’m skating the last two days.” The fact that Backstrom is feeling better and is back on the ice is a very good sign. But it still doesn’t mean his return is imminent or that there is a timetable for his return. [/caption] “With concussions,” says Capitals head athletic trainer Greg Smith, “we try to do the right thing to return the guys as safely as possible. [Caps center] Jay Beagle was out a long time [earlier this season] but he seemed to get better and he’s back in the lineup and doing quite well. [Former Caps defenseman] Brian Pothier was out for over a year and two months. “It takes a while, unfortunately. We know the timetable is a long time. The biggest thing for us is to make sure they get back safely.” Like Smith says, the process and the length of time varies from player to player. “What we try to do is we evaluate the symptoms that the player is having at that time,” says Smith. “We wait until those symptoms have cleared, and then we put them through some stresses and kind of ramp them back up to activities. Sometimes a guy might get hit in a game and 20 minutes later he feels good. We run him through a couple tests, and he’s back on the ice the next period. “Other times a guy gets hit – like in Nicky’s case – he’s out for a couple months. He had symptoms for about a month and a half, and now he’s feeling good and we’re in that ‘ramp-up’ process now to get him back on the ice.” Backstrom returned to his native Sweden for a bit of a vacation and recently returned to the States. He feels that getting away did a lot of good. “I was out for a couple games,” notes Backstrom. “You get frustrated to see all the guys. You want to be out there with them. I was changing up the atmosphere; go home and see my family and my girlfriend and stuff like that. I think that was a good thing to do. Now I feel better after that.” Did being away from hockey help ease any pressure he was feeling to get back on the ice? “Yeah, a little bit,” he says. “I wasn’t thinking as much of hockey as I was here. Hopefully that helped me a lot. I could do my own thing back there; I was biking and stuff like that. I think that helped me a lot.” There was a process to get to the point where Backstrom could go back on the ice. Now there is a process to get him back to practicing and finally, playing. “Normally, what I try to do is I let the guys skate on their own,” says Smith. “Ramp up by themselves. It’s hard for a guy to skate with many guys on the ice because there are a lot of things to look at and he has to concentrate on the puck. That’s probably the most difficult thing we do. “So I usually let the guys work in when we have those optional skates and morning skates, just work into that and ramp up that way. Then once they’re comfortable, we’ll integrate them back into practice and we’ll go from there to let them practice fully with the team.” So far, so good. But there could be a long way to go before Backstrom is ready for game action, and there is still no timetable. And there won’t be a timetable tomorrow, either, but that won’t prevent the question from being asked again. And again. “No, there’s no timetable there,” says Backstrom. “We’ll see what happens. The only thing I can tell you right now is I’m on the ice skating light. We’ll go from there. It’s a process and we’re working on it. I want to be out there so bad, but a concussion is nothing you can play around with. You’ve got to make sure you’re 100% before you go out there.” “I just hope he doesn’t have any symptoms and he can start working hard and getting back in the lineup,” says Caps defenseman Mike Green, who has been sidelined with concussion symptoms himself in the past. “We need him.” As always, Smith will be cautious and he’ll make sure that Backstrom doesn’t try to return too soon. “I think the way we handle concussions as a league is a lot better,” Smith notes. “Quite frankly, I haven’t changed the way I’ve handled it. My first year in the league, I held [then-Anaheim left wing] Paul Kariya out for almost seven, seven and a half months because he had a concussion. “I was conservative back then, and I haven’t changed my approach. I think that – knock on wood – I’ve been able to make sure that we haven’t had any relapses when we return a guy.” Now, the Caps just have to hope Backstrom moves along smoothly in his road to recovery. Washington has a dozen regular season games remaining and is still embroiled in a tight race for a playoff spot and a possible fifth straight Southeast Division title. The Caps need a healthy Backstrom back in their lineup, emphasis on the “healthy.” “It felt good,” says Backstrom after skating for consecutive days for the first time in more than two months. “Actually, it was no problems at all. But it’s probably going to take a couple of practices and then we’ll see how I feel.”

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“Au” is the chemical symbol for gold, and on Tuesday against the Islanders in New York, Caps center Keith Aucoin certainly had a golden touch. Aucoin had three assists to post the first three-point game of his NHL career. Playing mostly on a line with Mike Knuble and Joel Ward, Aucoin shone


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