Caps Take It Slow With Backstrom

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 14, 2008

With rookie camp set to begin today, the most pressing concern at Kettler Capitals Iceplex was the health of one of the Washington Capitals' key veterans.

Nicklas Backstrom, who amassed 14 goals and 69 points while centering Alex Ovechkin's line last season, sprained an ankle Thursday when he lost an edge and collided with the goal post during an informal skate with his teammates. Backstrom's right ankle twisted awkwardly as he fell to the ice, leaving him in considerable pain and unable to put any weight on it.

Although the swelling has subsided and he's experiencing less pain, Backstrom was walking with a limp yesterday morning at the team's Arlington practice facility. He said he was able to ride a stationary bike, but did not skate.

"I don't know what happened. I was going to the net and I just fell," Backstrom, 20, said of the collision with the goal. "I can walk, so . . . I'll be okay."

General Manager George McPhee was more cautious, partly because of the unpredictable nature of ankle injuries for hockey players, but also because of the high-ankle sprain suffered by Alexander Semin in last year's preseason. Semin, whose injury was more severe than Backstrom's, returned to the lineup on three separate occasions in October, only to be forced back to the sideline after a setback. Semin missed a total of 17 games and didn't rediscover his form until January.

"The training staff was encouraged," McPhee said, referring to the progress of Backstrom's ankle overnight Friday. "But we're going to take our time and make sure we do this right."

Backstrom said he hopes to be ready for training camp, which begins next Saturday. McPhee was more conservative.

"Don't know at this point," McPhee said. "He's got another week. We'll see how he does."

Meantime, rookie camp opens this morning and runs through Thursday, when the Capitals' rookies host the Flyers' rookies. All rookie and training camp sessions are free and open to the public, but a ticket will be required for the rookie game.

Twenty-six players are on the rookie camp roster, including Karl Alzner and 2008 draft picks Anton Gustafsson and Dmitry Kugryshev. Francois Bouchard, Mathieu Perreault, Oskar Osala, Viktor Dovgan and Josh Godfrey as well as goaltenders Michal Neuvirth and Simeon Varlamov also will be in attendance.

Many of the rookie camp participants will be selected to remain in Arlington for the main camp.

"You want to spend as much time as you can with your young players," McPhee said. "And because we have this facility, we can do a lot for them here. It's a great opportunity for all of us -- training staff, coaching staff and management -- to spend some time with these guys and really optimize their development."

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