ARLINGTON, Va. — Nicklas Backstrom could play for the first time this season when the Washington Capitals visit the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; SN, TVAS, NBCSCH, NBCSWA, ESPN+, NHL LIVE).
Backstrom, who has been recovering from a left hip injury that has bothered him since last season, will travel with the Capitals to Chicago on Tuesday and is expected to participate in the morning skate Wednesday before the decision is made if he’ll play.
“I think there’s a lot of conversations that are involved in it,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said Tuesday. “There’s obviously, the practice and where he’s at, Nick and where he’s at, the doctor and where he’s at. So there’s a lot of conversations that have happened. The one thing that we’ve made sure is that there has been no push. When he’s back and you see him on the ice, it’s because he is ready, and not until then.”
The center was a full participant in practice Tuesday for the second straight day, skating on the second line with Conor Sheary and T.J. Oshie, and working with the first power-play unit.
“I’m feeling good right now,” Backstrom said Monday. “As you all know, we haven’t been having a lot of practice either. So it was nice to get a practice in and actually take some line rushes too. But feeling better, progressing and we’ll see where we’re at.”
It’s been a long road back for Backstrom, who led Washington with 53 points (15 goals, 38 assists) in 55 games last season. The 34-year-old did not have surgery, but the rehab process was a slow one. He began skating in October and gradually increased the intensity of his workouts before joining the Capitals for practice Nov. 24.
After initially practicing in a non-contact jersey, Backstrom was cleared for contact Dec. 3. He practiced as an extra forward until Monday.
“It’s just nice to be skating with the guys,” Backstrom said. “I think skating by yourself actually [stinks]. … I love [strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish], but skating just me and him, it’s been tough. But it’s nice to get out there and compete with the guys and just take line rushes.”
Laviolette has seen an improvement in Backstrom’s skating and his mood as he’s been permitted to do more and gotten closer to playing.
“Probably the biggest thing you notice is the smile on his face,” Laviolette said. “So that’s a real good sign.”
Backstrom acknowledged that his recovery had some tough moments, so being close to the end has been uplifting.
“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster, I think, especially an emotional one,” he said. “Some days early on you’re kind of getting down a little bit, but at the same time now we’re here and it’s feeling good, which is what we all hoped for. So hopefully it stays that way.”
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