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UPDATED: Backstrom trades in no-contact jersey

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UPDATED: Backstrom trades in no-contact jersey

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.

[RELATED: Can Capitals win the Eastern Conference?] 

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

Defense pairings

Brooks Orpik – John Carlson

Karl Alzner – Matt Niskanen

Dmitry Orlov – Nate Schmidt

Extra: Taylor Chorney 

Goaltenders

Braden Holtby – Philipp Grubauer 

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Capitals Extra Podcast: Trade deadline story time with Alan May

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NBC Sports Washington

Capitals Extra Podcast: Trade deadline story time with Alan May

Alan May knows a thing or two about the trade deadline.

Over the course of his NHL career, May was traded five total times, four at the trade deadline. He sits down with Rob Carlin on a special edition of the Capitals Extra Podcast to tell stories from his playing days about what it was like getting traded.

This one's a can't miss for hockey fans. You can listen to the episode here on the Capitals Extra page or with the player below.

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NHL Awards tracker: Where would the Caps' offense be without Ovechkin?

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USA TODAY Sports

NHL Awards tracker: Where would the Caps' offense be without Ovechkin?

The Hart Trophy is given to the player judged to be the most valuable to their team. With the Caps currently struggling in almost every aspect of the game, consider this: Just where would they be without Alex Ovechkin?

Washington ranks 10th in the NHL in goals per game with 3.05. Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals with 36. He has scored an incredible 19-percent of his team's goals. No one on the Caps is within 20 goals of the Caps' captain.

That's not a typo. Evgeny Kuznetsov ranks second on the team with 16 goals. No other team in the league has a larger separation between its top two scorers. In fact, only three teams have a difference that's in the double digits: Vancouver (11), San Jose (10) and New Jersey (10).

Ovechkin is almost singlehandedly propping up Washington as a top-ten offense. If you think about just where this offense would be without him, there's a pretty strong case to be made that Ovechkin is as valuable to his team this season as any other player in the league.

SEE THIS WEEK'S 2018 NHL AWARDS TRACKER HERE

Here are the Caps' hopefuls for awards this season:

John Carlson

In contention for: Norris

Carlson is fifth among all defensemen with 45 points, but his case goes beyond the numbers. With a blue line that has featured two rookies the majority of the season, an aging veteran in Brooks Orpik and that had to deal with an injury to Matt Niskanen, the Caps have asked a lot of Carlson this season and he has always been up to the task.

Alex Ovechkin

In contention for: Hart

Few players, if any, are as important to their team's offensive production and therefore its success than Ovechkin has been this season.

Check out who the top candidates are for the league's major individual awards in this week's 2018 NHL Awards Tracker!