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Injured forward Backstrom takes respite in Sweden

by Ben Raby
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom is in Sweden to spend time with his family, a team spokesman confirmed to Monday.

The Capitals' No. 1 center has been sidelined with a concussion since taking an elbow to the head from then-Calgary Flames forward Rene Bourque on Jan. 3.

Backstrom has skated for just five minutes over the past 58 days -- an attempt on Jan. 23. He has since been limited to riding a stationary bike.

According to the team, Backstrom is not seeing any medical specialists in Sweden, and the return home is strictly to see family and to spend some time away from hockey.

Backstrom spoke to reporters last month and acknowledged the frustration in coming to the practice facility on a daily basis but being unable to join his teammates on the rink.

The 24-year-old flew to Sweden last week as the Caps began a season-long five-game homestand. He is expected to return to Washington on Sunday.

Backstrom's spending time at home is a measure not unlike one Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby took last season when he spent time in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, while recovering from his concussion.

Capitals general manager George McPhee said last Monday that while he remains hopeful Backstrom will return this season, there is still no timetable for a full recovery.

"I don't have an answer for you on that," McPhee said after the NHL Trade Deadline. "I wish I did. It's a lot easier to plan if you have an answer. But we don't have an answer."

The Caps have won 11 of the 27 games Backstrom has missed, and Dale Hunter continues to search for answers for a power-play unit that is 2-for-34 since Feb. 12, and 6-for-68 since Jan. 13.

"I certainly think we're capable of making the playoffs with this team right now," McPhee said. "If Nicky Backstrom came back it certainly would improve our chances of being able to win a Cup. We can make the playoffs with this team, and if he comes back we can beat anybody in this conference."

Backstrom remains the Capitals' second leading scorer this season with 42 points in 38 games.

The Capitals begin the week in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind the eighth-place Winnipeg Jets. The Caps close out their five-game homestand this week with games against Carolina on Tuesday and Tampa Bay on Thursday.

Vokoun Returns: Capitals goalie Tomas Vokoun returned to practice today after sitting out this past weekend with a lower-body injury. The 35-year-old says he hopes to be fully recovered and available for tomorrow’s game against Carolina.

Michal Neuvirth has gone 3-3-0 in starting the last six games for the Caps. Braden Holtby was recalled from AHL Hershey yesterday and dressed as Neuvirth’s backup last night against Philadelphia.

All three goalies took part in Dale Hunter's Monday practice, but Holtby was later reassigned to Hershey.
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