Ben Raby, wtop.com
ARLINGTON, Va. - Fifteen members of the Washington Capitals took part in an informal skate Wednesday morning at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex, but the team's No. 1 center was noticeably absent.
Instead, Nicklas Backstrom was in Michigan to meet with a medical specialist regarding an injury he suffered Dec. 26. Backstrom spent part of the NHL lockout with Dynamo Moscow of the Kontinental Hockey League, but has not played since the injury occurred.
There is still no official word as to what specifically is ailing the 25-year-old Swede. General Manager George McPhee said Tuesday he could not comment on Backstrom's health with the new collective bargaining agreement not yet ratified.
Initial reports suggested that Backstrom suffered a neck injury, although there is growing concern that the he may be suffering from his second concussion in less than a year.
"I think this team revolves around Nicky Backstrom," teammate Troy Brouwer said.
"I think the way he controls the play, controls the pucků When he's out there thinking clearly and making sure he makes smart plays, there aren't many players better than him."
Backstrom missed 40 games with a concussion last season after taking an elbow to the head in a Jan. 3 game against the Calgary Flames. The Caps went 18-16-6 without their No.1 center, who eventually returned to the lineup March 31 against the Montreal Canadiens.
"He has to make sure that 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 and miss more time," Brouwer said.
"We're anxious to get him back and we're anxious to make sure that he's playing with us, but at the same time, we want a fully healthy Nicky Backstrom because he's a phenomenal player when he is."
Backstrom was the only Capital to average more than a point-per-game last season (44 points in 42 games) and the versatile center has become a key cog in recent years on both of Washington's special teams units.
The Capitals' power play went 15-for-102 (14.7 percent) during Backstrom's 40-game absence last season compared to 26-for-143 (18.2) when he was in the lineup.
Of the 26 power play goals the Capitals scored with Backstrom in the lineup last season, he had a point on 73 percent of them (three goals and 16 assists). Backstrom's value can clearly be quantified, but his teammates also rave about the intangibles he brings which may be harder to measure.
"Nicky is one of our go-to guys in the locker room, go-to guys on the ice," said Matt Hendricks.
"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."
Backstrom was also enjoying a solid stint in the KHL this year where his 10 goals and 25 points in 19 games both ranked second on the team behind only Alex Ovechkin.
"I think he's doing well. It was not a dirty [hit]," Ovechkin said of the play that caused the injury. "But sometimes it's not hard hit, you just feel a little dizzy. We'll see how it goes."
"I think it's just a situation, you know, it's a contact game, it's a physical game. Even in KHL it's very good level out there. Again, it happens. So nothing you can do ... He just fell and hit into the boards."
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