Capitals still waiting on return of ailing players

By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 8:34 PM

Winners of six consecutive games and two points from first place in the Eastern Conference, the Washington Capitals conducted a lively practice at Verizon Center on Thursday morning that included injured center Nicklas Backstrom as well as ailing defensemen Mike Green and Tom Poti.

Backstrom wore an orange no-contact jersey while participating in a handful of drills but watched a good portion of practice from the bench. A broken left thumb kept Backstrom out of Wednesday's 5-0 victory over Edmonton, ending his consecutive games streak at 341, including the playoffs.

Backstrom had played six games after the initial fracture from a slash by Pittsburgh's Kris Letang on Feb. 21. He then apparently aggravated the injury in a 2-1 shootout victory over Tampa Bay on Monday to the point where he was unable to clutch a stick without considerable discomfort. He's listed as day-to-day while wearing a cast covering his thumb, wrist and part of his hand.

"I mean obviously you want to play, and you want to be out there," Backstrom said. "It's frustrating to sit out. I could tell last night, too. It was a little frustrating, but we won, so that was a good thing."

With Backstrom out of the lineup on Wednesday, the Capitals turned to Marcus Johansson to center the first line with Alex Ovechkin and Mike Knuble on the wings. Ovechkin scored twice, including his first power-play goal of the season at home. His second goal came on a series of passes to and from Johansson before beating Oilers goalie Nikolai Khabibulin for a 3-0 lead in the third period.

The Capitals' next game is Friday night at Verizon Center against Carolina, and it's unclear whether Backstrom will be in uniform. The team, however, is treating the injury with the utmost care to ensure not only proper healing but also that when Backstrom comes back, he'll be at full strength.

"We can take that cast off at any time," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "The doctors are willing. It's just for his own protection. We want it stabilized so that when he does play, it's 100 percent, not 85 percent, not 90 percent.

"For anybody that's had their thumb hit, you don't notice it until it's hit, and the next thing you know, it seems like you're bumping into it with something every two minutes. What we wanted to do was alleviate that problem."

Green practices again

Green skated for approximately the first half an hour of practice before calling it a day and appears at least several weeks from coming back. The all-star defenseman is recovering from head trauma and has not played since taking a shoulder to the jaw from the New York Rangers' Derek Stepan on Feb. 25.

Green initially absorbed a blow to his head against the Penguins on Feb. 6, when a puck off the stick of Brooks Orpik struck him near his right ear, resulting in what Boudreau termed "inner ear trauma." The club has not confirmed if Green, who has missed 12 of 14 games, suffered a concussion.

"Hopefully yeah," Green said when asked if two weeks was a target date to be back in the lineup. "With these things, it's kind of a day-to-day thing. The good thing is the team is playing well, and it gives some leeway just to make sure everything is good before I come back. The good part is I am feeling better, and yeah, it's about getting completely healthy and making sure we do this right."

Poti, meantime, appears much closer playing his first game since Jan. 12 after going through a full practice on Thursday. He's been nursing a groin injury, and his return to the lineup would provide the Capitals depth at a position that was somewhat in need of support until the trade-deadline acquisition of Dennis Wideman.

Varlamov may be ready

Boudreau indicated goalie Semyon Varlamov might be ready to face shots on Friday. Varlamov has not played since Feb. 20 after suffering an apparent knee injury, but he was on the ice briefly before Thursday's practice.

Varlamov is 10-8-4 this season with a 2.27 goals-against average, which ranks sixth in the league, and owns the NHL's seventh best save percentage at .923. Bringing back Varlamov recently became less of an immediate issue since the callup of Braden Holtby, who logged the first shutout of his NHL career on Wednesday and has stopped 130 of 133 shots.

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