Capitals’ Nicklas Backstrom is day-to-day after hit from Flames’ Rene Bourque


“With a team that’s been inconsistent, he’s been consistent,” teammate Mike Knuble said of Nicklas Backstrom, right. (Patrick McDermott/GETTY IMAGES)
January 4, 2012

A day after Nicklas Backstrom was elbowed in the head by Calgary forward Rene Bourque, not much was certain about the health of the Washington Capitals’ top center.

Backstrom underwent concussion testing Wednesday morning after absorbing the hit in the third period of Tuesday’s game at Verizon Center but the results were inconclusive, according to a pair of tweets by his brother Kristoffer.

“Test done and the dr couldn’t tell today but a small concussion/migraine. Have to wait for tmrw and a new test,” Kristoffer Backstrom wrote in a second tweet, which has since been deleted.

Backstrom participated in an off-ice workout with his teammates Wednesday and will continue to be evaluated by team doctors in the coming days. The 24-year-old Swede also has a history of migraines — in 2010 he was forced to leave games with the painful headaches — and it’s possible that could play a role in this situation.

The Capitals formally list Backstrom’s status as day-to-day, and the team has not gone so far as to use the word concussion when discussing his health.

“We’re evaluating and it’s one of those things where you evaluate it for a few days and see how he is,” said Coach Dale Hunter, who added that there has not been a decision as to whether Backstrom will travel with the team when it leaves Thursday afternoon for a five-day road trip to San Jose and Los Angeles.

Bourque received a five-game suspension from the NHL on Wednesday evening for the elbow. The Flames’ forward will forfeit $203,252 in pay during the suspension. Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s vice president of player safety, cited the violation of Rule 48 (illegal check to the head), Bourque’s status as a repeat offender and the fact that Backstrom was injured on the play as the principal factors in determining the length of the suspension.

“When we look at the events of this game, we believe Bourque’s assertion that this was an instinctive reflex rather than a premeditated attempt to injure,” Shanahan said. “However, as all of the parties in the hearing agreed, this reckless elbow to the head is indefensible.”

Several Capitals said Wednesday morning that they believed the elbow was an unnecessary and reckless play. Captain Alex Ovechkin said he was surprised when Bourque received only a two-minute minor penalty.

“It was head shot. It was kind of on purpose,” Ovechkin said. “I tell the referee, ‘He goes like straight in the face with an elbow. So why give him only two minutes?’ He just said, ‘Nicky was fine and he keep playing.’ So, I don’t know. We’ll see how it goes.”

Backstrom, in the midst of his fifth season in the NHL, has been Washington’s steadiest and most reliable player this year. He recorded three assists in the Capitals’ 3-1 win over Calgary before leaving the game as a precaution. He leads the team with 42 points, tied for eighth among the NHL’s leading scorers. By all indications, he is expected to earn an invitation to participate in his first NHL all-star game this month in Ottawa.

“With a team that’s been inconsistent, he’s been consistent,” winger Mike Knuble said. “He’s been our most consistent player and plays in any situation and he’s very valuable to us. I don’t know if he’s going to miss time or whatever, but it’s a big hole if he does.”

Backstrom has missed just five games in his career. Should he be forced to the sidelines for any length of time, it will most certainly have an impact on Washington.

“I think he’s probably our — I shouldn’t say most valuable, but one of the top two or three guys on this team,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “He can do everything and the guys love having him out there. He’s so dangerous and he can not only score but he can set up a lot of guys. Any time with Nicky out of the lineup is not a good time.”

Capitals note: Alexander Semin, who missed the game against Calgary with what an NHL source described as neck pain, took part in an optional skate Wednesday. Hunter said Semin continues to be day-to-day and the team will assess his status again Thursday.

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