Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom traded in his baby blue non-contact practice jersey on Monday but has not been cleared for full contact as he nears a return from offseason hip surgery.
Backstrom is expected to meet with his surgeon “sometime this week” and a plan for his return will occur then.
“It’s pretty much up to the doctor,” Backstrom said. “We’re going to have a discussion and see what decision we make and go from there. It’s very important we’re all on the same page here and we don’t rush into a decision.”
Capitals coach Barry Trotz said Backstrom continues to “stretch the boundaries” of his comfort zone and will allow the 27-year-old center to determine when he returns.
“He’s done absolutely everything possible to get back as quick as possible,” Trotz said. “I think when he comes back he’s such an intelligent player, and such a rare player in terms of his hockey IQ, he’ll be able to maneuver through the game and make it through.
“It’s important we do the right thing not only for this season but for the next 10 or 12 seasons he’s playing.”
Trotz said once Backstrom is cleared for full contact he would probably need only one or two practices before getting into game action, which theoretically could mean Backstrom could play on the Caps’ current four-game homestand, which continues with games against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday and the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.
Backstrom played in all 82 regular season games and all 14 playoff games last season before deciding to undergo hip surgery on May 27. He began skating in early September and has been practicing with the Capitals since last week.
On Monday Backstrom was used as an alternate in practice line rushes, skating with forwards Andre Burakovsky, Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson.
“He’s a guy we really need,” said Johansson. He always comes to play and he’s there for everyone on and off the ice. He’s a first-line center and he’s not a guy you just replace. Hopefully he’s back soon.”
Backstrom said missing his first season opener on Saturday night “was a little bit different” and that he hopes once he’s cleared the Caps’ coaching staff puts him in the lineup.
“I don’t know,” he said. “We’re on a winning streak.”
Here were the Caps’ line combinations and defense pairings on Monday:
Alex Ovechkin – Evcgeny Kuznetsov – T.J. Oshie
Marcus Johansson – Andre Burakovsky – Justin Williams
Jason Chimera – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson
Brooks Laich – Michael Latta – Sean Collins
Extra: Stan Galiev
Brooks Orpik – John Carlson
Karl Alzner – Matt Niskanen
Dmitry Orlov – Nate Schmidt
Extra: Taylor Chorney
Braden Holtby – Philipp Grubauer