Nicklas Backstrom was cleared for full participation in practice over the weekend but Monday’s 45-minute session marked the first time he has able to skate in a regular workout with the entire Capitals roster since Jan. 6 in San Jose.
While it’s definitely good news to see Backstrom progressing, just a friendly disclaimer to remember that he still must clear a few more hurdles before the Capitals’ doctors and training staff will allow him back into the lineup. (More on that here.)
“I’m not a hundred percent yet, but I’m getting there. It takes a little time,” said Backstrom, who has been on the ice 13 of the past 14 days. “It felt good. But I think it’s going to be even better.”
After nearly three months off, Backstrom is working to get himself back in game shape and also adjust to the rigors of full-contact body checks again.
The only hitch is that none of his teammates really want to be the first guy to hit the 24-year-old Swede, because the uncertain nature of concussions makes it impossible to know what might result in a setback.
“Nobody wants to test him out just in case, but he’s working hard out there he’s trying to get back into game shape. Guys are excited to see him out there because he’s one of our, if not our best, all-around player on our team,” Troy Brouwer said. “I’d give him a bump; I wouldn’t really lean into him, just to see how he’s doing, but it wouldn’t be during a drill. It would be when he’s fully braced and ready for it.”
Before Backstrom is back in the mix, though, he will go through the rigors of taking full speed checks in practice. In practice on Monday, Backstrom did some work along the boards with Jay Beagle, who missed two-and-a-half months with a concussion himself earlier in the year.
“It’s obviously not lining up at center and running at each other,” said Beagle, who added that he thought Backstrom felt strong as they battled during the drill. “We’re just bumping and you go from there. Hopefully he feels good and he keeps progressing. That’s all you can hope for.”
From his own experience, Beagle said he understands that players need to ease their way back into physical play but nothing can truly replicate the intensity of a live game – particularly at this time of the year, with the Capitals and other teams fighting to reach the playoffs.
When Beagle neared his return from a concussion back in December, he devised a plan to test his own ability to handle physical contact. He asked teammates Mathieu Perreault and John Carlson to hit him hard against the boards.
“I asked Carly and Perry both to run me pretty good in pregame skate. Just to get my head around it,” Beagle said. “I asked Perry, obviously, to do it first, because he’s a little smaller. And then once I took it from him I was like, ‘Okay, Carly. Now let’s have you.’”
Beagle laughed and joked that rugged defenseman John Erskine looked to be next in line to hit him, so he quickly got off the ice. But Beagle said he believed it was important for him to know that he could handle full-force checks.
Asked about when he might be hit at full speed by a true foe, not a teammate simply looking to help him prepare, Backstrom said he didn’t want to focus on what may or may not happen once he’s back in a game.
“I’m not going to think about that. I’m just going to play the game like I usually do,” Backstrom said. “I’m not going to be worried about that. If you are worried, you’re going to get hit again. You can’t think about that too much.”