(Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post) Nicklas Backstrom shown here in Nov. 2011. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post) Nicklas Backstrom shown here in November 2011.


Last season, the Washington Capitals learned how much tougher their task of winning games was without No. 1 center Nicklas Backstrom in the lineup.

The Capitals went 18-16-6 in the 40 games Backstrom was sidelined by a concussion after being hit in the head by then-Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque. And his teammates are all too familiar with what they’re missing when he’s absent.

“For me personally, I think this team revolves around Nicky Backstrom,” Troy Brouwer said. “The way he controls the play controls the puck. When he’s out there, thinking clearly, making sure he’s making smart plays, there’s not many players better than him.”

Backstrom is visiting a specialist in Michigan for evaluation of an injury he suffered on Dec. 26 while playing in the KHL. Initial Russian reports stated the 25-year-old Swede suffered a neck injury, but there’s concern that he may have suffered another concussion.

“Nicky is one of our go-to guys in the locker room, our go-to guys on the ice,” Matt Hendricks said. “He’s a leader on our team and we’re going to miss him, without a doubt. We’re going to miss the way he plays and the way he produces but we’re going to do our best to win hockey games without him if he’s not going to be around.”

The Capitals have not disclosed details about the nature of Backstrom’s injury. On Tuesday, General Manager George McPhee said he couldn’t comment on Backstrom’s health until the new collective bargaining agreement was ratified.

His teammates have stayed in touch with him, though, and are hopeful he’ll be back on the ice with them soon.

“Hopefully nothing is too serious and it’s not going to drag out too long,” Brouwer said. “He’s got to make sure he’s fully healthy and make sure that he’s ready to go because we don’t want him to come back early just because it’s the start of the season.

“He’s a little disappointed at the timing of it right now,” Brouwer added. “Because we’ve waited so long to play, he wants to come back and he wants to start with us. He wants to be in camp, he wants to be around the guys and I think that’s what kills him the most. He kind of feels like he’s letting his teammates down but we know how finicky injuries can be and we know that he wants to be here, and that’s enough. When he gets healthy we want him back as soon as possible but a healthy, fully healthy, Nicky Backstrom.”