Overall this season, Washington is 14-2-1 on the road. That’s tops in the NHL.
“As of [Sunday] I’m good to go,” Backstrom said. He was medically cleared earlier in the week on the team’s road trip but wasn’t put in the lineup. “I woke up and felt good. It’s like that guy in ‘Mighty Ducks,’ I woke up, no pain.”
Backstrom took line rushes for the first time since his injury during the Capitals’ Sunday practice. He was on the first line, alongside captain Alex Ovechkin and forward Tom Wilson. Evgeny Kuznetsov was pushed to the second line, with T.J. Oshie and Jakub Vrana. The Swede also was back in his normal spot on the team’s first unit on the power play. Lars Eller had originally been taking his place on the unit before Vrana took over duties over the past week.
Backstrom has played in 23 games this season, scoring four goals and tallying 14 assists.
“It’s always fun to watch No. 19 play,” Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said. “He looked good. Going to put him back with Ovi and Tom to start with. Just liked some of the chemistry that Oshie and Vrana have and have Kuzy play with those guys is where we’ll start tomorrow.”
The team has been at least down one player since the start of the season because of injuries or suspensions. The team got close to having its full lineup multiple times, but each time setbacks or another injury popped up. However, even with the kind of constantly changing lineup that many teams across the NHL deal with — Chicago played with only 11 healthy forwards and six defensemen within the last month — the Capitals are still atop the league with no sense of slowing down.
After facing Columbus, Washington has a highly anticipated matchup against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday at Capital One Arena. The Bruins are 20-4-6 headed into their Monday game against the Ottawa Senators.
“I think that shows the depth that we have all the way through our lineup: forward, defenseman and our goaltending has been strong,” Reirden said. “I think it’s a clear understanding that it’s a competitive situation that we’ve had since training camp that players are ready to take advantage of their opportunities that they get, and they know that they need to. Otherwise, there’s a chance they could find themselves on the outside. The inner-competition we’ve had has probably helped push that a little bit. That’s been a good problem to have, and it’s allowed us to see some other players get opportunities and showcase some of the abilities they have.”
To start the season, Kuznetsov missed three games because of a suspension for “inappropriate conduct” and Michal Kempny missed the first six games of the year because he was still recovering from the hamstring he tore in March. Kempny returned Oct. 18 against the New York Rangers but not before Richard Panik got hurt during an in-game collision with Jonas Siegenthaler two days earlier against Toronto.
That caused Panik to miss 10 games after he was placed on long-term injured reserve. Nic Dowd was hurt twice this season, missing games for both a knee and hand injury that turned out to have further unexpected complications. Additionally, Garnet Hathaway was suspended for three games after he spit on Anaheim’s Erik Gudbranson during a brawl in the teams’ Nov. 18 matchup at Capital One Arena.
At the same time as the second Dowd injury and Hathaway suspension, Backstrom got hurt and Carl Hagelin missed 11 games with an upper body injury. With Hagelin activated off LTI and back in the lineup Dec. 3 against San Jose, Backstrom was the last missing piece for the Capitals. Backstrom last played against Anaheim on Nov. 18. He would not specify when his injury happened.
“As of right now, we are playing good hockey and we are getting the points we needed, so it is still early in the season, so you have to keep build, build and build,” Backstrom said. “We are a team that is building for upcoming things. As everyone knows, you have to have a good regular season, too, so we are just trying to build our game for what is coming.”