It’s been four nights since Calgary forward Rene Bourque blatantly flapped an elbow to the head of Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. Although the Caps’ center skated a couple more shifts in that Tuesday game, he also missed his last few shifts of the night and did not participate in Washington’s optional Wednesday practice.
Backstrom did practice with his teammates on Thursday in Arlington and belatedly took the ice on Friday in San Jose for a practice session, doing so after being evaluated for possible concussion symptoms as a result of Bourque’s reckless elbow.
After Friday’s practice, there was optimism over Backstrom’s availability for tonight’s game in San Jose.
“I feel pretty good today,” said Backstrom after Friday’s practice. “But it’s up to the doctors. You’ve got to ask [head athletic trainer Greg Smith] about that.
“I feel pretty good, actually. I think I am ready to go. That’s my thoughts.”
Today, the Caps opted to err on the side of caution. They’ll hold Backstrom out of tonight’s game with the Sharks.
“He’s not going to play,” says Caps coach Dale Hunter of Backstrom. “We’re just being careful. He feels good, but you’ve still got to be careful with it.”
“It’s a good thing to do,” says Caps right wing Mike Knuble of the decision to keep Backstrom on the sidelines. “He has to answer how he is feeling. But we’ve all seen what happens if you put a guy in too early or if he’s not feeling right. It’s just the potential for a lot ore injury and the potential for turning a molehill into a mountain. It’s a good idea. It’s January, it’s like it’s a do or die game.”
The 24-year-old center has had a history of occasional migraine headaches in the past. When the Capitals were out west on a trip to San Jose and Los Angeles just over two years ago, Backstrom left a Jan. 2, 2009 game against the Kings in Los Angeles because of a migraine.
Backstrom started his NHL career by playing in 313 consecutive games, the third-longest streak in Washington’s franchise history. He finally missed the first game of his NHL career on March 9, 2011 when he sat out the first of five straight games with a thumb injury he originally sustained in a Feb. 21, 2011 game against Pittsburgh.
Backstrom tried for more than two weeks to play through that injury before finally succumbing and sitting out in an effort to let his thumb heal.
“Who’s saying he’s not in?” says Caps center Brooks Laich, asked about his teammate’s absence from the lineup tonight. “Nicky is a tough kid. I wouldn’t say that until the game starts. We’ll leave it at that.”
Throughout the first half of the 2011-12 season, Backstrom has been the Capitals’ most consistent player and the team’s leading scorer. But when Washington takes on the Sharks in San Jose tonight, Backstrom will not be sporting a Capitals sweater. He’ll be sitting out for just the sixth time in 367 games since he started his NHL career on Oct. 5, 2007 against the Thrashers in Atlanta.