Washington will be without top center Nicklas Backstrom Saturday night when it faces the San Jose Sharks.
Backstrom was elbowed on the jaw on Tuesday night by Calgary's Rene Bourque. and the Capitals say they are playing it safe with the 24-year-old’s health. This absence will mark just the sixth game that Backstrom, who is in the midst of his fifth season, has missed in his NHL career.
“No, he’s not going to play,” Coach Dale Hunter said, when asked for an update on Backstrom’s status. “You’ve just got to be careful, he feels good but still got to be careful with it.”
Backstrom did not take part in the team’s morning skate at HP Pavilion which raised questions of a possible setback given that he fully participated in each of the two previous days of practice. On Friday, Backstrom went so far as to say he felt ready for game action and Hunter said it was “looking good” for the center to be in the lineup against San Jose.
“I feel pretty good actually,” Backstrom said on Friday. “I think I’m ready to go, that’s my thoughts.”
After the morning skate on Saturday in San Jose, Hunter said that Backstrom did not experience a setback.
Backstrom underwent concussion testing the day after absorbing the hit but results were inconclusive. The team, which is typically tight lipped when discussing injuries in the event it acknowledges one has occurred, has not used the word concussion when addressing the center’s injury.
The void left in the lineup by Backstrom’s absence is not one that is easily filled.
Backstrom has been by far the Capitals’ most consistent player this season in addition to being the team’s leading scorer with 42 points (13 goals, 29 assists). He’s typically one of the team’s leaders in ice time among forwards and also plays a significant role on the power play and the penalty kill.
His teammates understand that being without Backstrom for a short period of time now, however, may be the best course of action when it comes to ensuring the franchise center’s health.
“I think Nick wants to play, but we’re being pretty cautious with him because he’s our best player,” Jason Chimera said. “I’m not surprised he’s out tonight. Teams right now they invest so much in these kids, they want to make sure he’s 100 percent. In the long run it’s better for us – if he gets another big hit tonight and he’s out for a long period of time that’s worse for us.”
As Chimera said, the Capitals understand that being without Backstrom for a short period of time now, however, may be the best course of action when it comes to ensuring the franchise center’s health.
“It’s a good thing to do. He has to answer how he’s feeling, but we’ve all seen what happens if you put a guy in too early or if he’s not feeling right,” Mike Knuble said. “It’s just potential for a lot more injury, potential for turning a mole hill into a mountain. Smart, good idea. It’s January. It’s not like it’s a do or die game.”