Backstrom Cleared for PracticePosted on January 14, 2013 by Mike Vogel
As a team that endured perhaps the worst of several bad beats this season just the night before in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Winnipeg jets, the Washington Capitals awoke on a gray and dreary Saturday in need of some good news. That good news came in the form of center Nicklas Backstrom practicing with the team for the first time in more than two months. The Caps had a video session at 11 a.m. today followed by an optional practice. Just prior to the start of that video session, the media was told that Backstrom had been cleared to practice with his teammates without restrictions. That means he is cleared for contact. “It’s awesome,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter. “It’s awesome for him and awesome for the team. He’s a competitor that wants to play in these crucial games and I’m just glad to see that he’s nice and healthy now.” That doesn’t mean Backstrom will be back in the lineup on Sunday when the Minnesota Wild visits Verizon Center. After missing the equivalent of half a season, Backstrom will require a few practices before he is ready for the rigors of game action again. “I’ve been looking forward to this for two and a half months,” says Backstrom. “I’m kind of happy right now so it’s good to practice with the guys. It feels pretty good out there.” Until he was felled by a blatant elbow from then-Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque in a Jan. 3 game, Backstrom had missed a total of five games in his NHL career, all of them consecutively late last season when he suffered a thumb injury. The 24-year-old center is in uncharted territory as far as this type of injury, this type of recovery, this type of rehab and this long of an absence from the lineup. “It feels like you’re back in training camp,” says Backstrom. “It takes a little time. But it feels good. Give me a couple more practices; I don’t know how long, but we’ll see. Right now I can tell you it feels good and we’ll see what happens. With just seven games remaining, both Backstrom and the Caps hope that the star pivot will be able to return prior to the end of the 2011-12 regular season. Before rejoining his teammates at Saturday’s practice, Backstrom had been skating on his own for about 10 days. “We hope,” says Hunter. “There’s always hope. We’re going to be careful. I imagine he wants to; he’s been chomping at the bit. But it’s up to [head athletic trainer Greg Smith].” “Absolutely,” says Backstrom, asked if he wants to try to return prior to the conclusion of the regular season. “I want to be back as soon as possible. But you’ve got to be careful and make sure that you’re 100 percent before you go back. You don’t want to get any setbacks. That’s what we’re looking forward to and I’m hoping I can be back as soon as possible. That’s my goal.” There was a bit more good news on the injury front for Washington, too. Right wing Joel Ward missed Friday’s game against Winnipeg because of a lower body injury, but he discarded the crutches he had been using and is day-to-day. The Caps had recalled forward Cody Eakin from AHL Hershey as a precautionary measure on Friday in case another forward was needed. Eakin was returned to Hershey on Saturday.
Twenty-two-year-old rookie goaltender Braden Holtby got the start in net in a must-win game for the Capitals against the Minnesota Wild today. It was his fourth NHL start of the season. On the surface, that might sound surprising. But not if you’ve been watching the games. With virtually every game