Within a matter of minutes Thursday morning, the mood at Kettler Capitals Iceplex swung from giddy optimism about Nicklas Backstrom’s recovery from a concussion to concern about Alex Ovechkin’s health.
Ovechkin collided with teammate Mike Knuble about 10 minutes into practice and dropped to the ice. The team captain lay prone on the ice for about two minutes, pressing his gloved hands against his helmet as trainers attended to him.
Ovechkin did not return to practice and was being evaluated by team medical staff about an hour after the collision. Coach Dale Hunter said Ovechkin would travel with the team on its potentially season-defining road trip, which begins Friday in Winnipeg. Hunter also said Ovechkin will suit up against the Southeast Division rival Jets.
“He’s fine,” Hunter said. “It was two big guys colliding at full speed. Something real bad could have happened. They got crossed in their signals. They were supposed to be in the other lane.
“We still trying to figure out which one,” Hunter added with a chuckle.
Hunter said Ovechkin said did not suffer a head injury but rather “lost his wind.”
Ovechkin, the Capitals’ leading scorer, looked dazed after he gingerly glided to the bench, where he sat holding his head in his hands and rubbing his eyes. After about three minutes, Ovechkin removed his helmet and walked to the dressing room. About 10 minutes later, his equipment was not hanging in his stall, which likely meant he still was being examined by the team’s medical staff.
“We had the whole ice to work together and we occupied the same space,” Knuble said of a collision that involved a combined 459 pounds of humanity. “That was a lot of beef coming together there [at] full speed, you know? When people don’t see each other, it gets pretty dangerous.
“There’s the whole ice there,” Knuble added. “You can’t run into each other. It’s just stupid. It’s more annoying than anything. It’s embarrassing that someone gets hurt.”
Ovechkin, who has 29 goals and 53 points, did not speak to reporters. He scored two goals and tallied in the shootout in Tuesday’s 5-4 win over the New York Islanders.
“You definitely get concerned when you see a guy get hit like that,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “Ovi made the pass and just kind of drifted over to the other side of the ice where Knubs was coming. You don’t really expect a guy to be there.”
The worry about Ovechkin’s status comes on a day when Nicklas Backstrom, who has been sidelined since Jan 7 with a concussion, began to ramp up his efforts to return.
For the third consecutive day, Backstrom skated in full equipment, stickhandling and firing wrist shots prior to practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
This time, though, there was a notable difference: He was joined by strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish and took medium-effort laps around the rink. Nemish timed Backstrom’s recovery between intervals.
It’s still too early to speculate about a return date for Backstrom. But it’s clear that he feels well enough to begin ramping up his workouts, which is a positive development for the Capitals.
Backstrom was on pace for a 90-point season when he was elbowed in the head by then-Calgary winger Rene Bourque on Jan. 3.
Toward the end of Tuesday’s session, Nemish fed pucks to Backstrom, who took half-speed one-timers for about three minutes. Backstrom also did a drill that required him to start and stop, snag a puck with his stick, curl and snap a shot on net.
Backstrom left the ice after 35 minutes, an increase of 15 minutes over Tuesday. He said afterward that he’s symptom free.
“It can still get better, though,” he said.
Backstrom credited a recent trip to his native Sweden for helping to clear his mind, relieve his stress level and, ultimately, expedite his recovery.
“I was getting a little frustrated here when I saw the guys on the ice,” Backstrom said. “Obviously, I wanted to play. It was good to be [home] and think about other stuff, not hockey.”
Backstrom made his comments about 15 minutes after Ovechkin went to the locker room.
“I can just speak for my situation,” Backstrom said of Ovechkin. “I’m worried too. But we’ll see what happens.”