Absences from practice are common in the NHL. Even if a player is not sick or injured, sometimes you won't see them out on the ice due to what the team calls "maintenance." What is not so frequent, however, is to see that maintenance take a player out of a game. Yet, when the Capitals hosted the Boston Bruins on Sunday, they did so without Nicklas Backstrom in the lineup.
The reason? "Body maintenance," according to the team.
"That was something we planned and agreed on a couple weeks ago," Backstrom said.
"Nick, he's in a position where he went through some things at the beginning of the year and so, for me, the maintenance part of players' bodies, Nick's body, this was something that we planned about and talked about," head coach Peter Laviolette said. "We just looked at the schedule and trying to do what's best for the player and best for the players in general, then this specific instance what's best for Nick going down the stretch here as we try to prepare for the playoffs."
And it sounds like it is at least possible that we may see it happen again before the end of the season.
"Play it by ear," Backstrom said. "That's our plan. We want to play as good as possible right now, but we want everyone healthy and feeling good before the playoffs."
Through Tuesday's game, Backstrom has been limited to just 39 out of Washington's 73 games this season. A hip issue from the previous season kept him out until December. Now, with the season winding down and the playoffs drawing nearer, the decision was made by the coaches and player for Backstrom to sit out Sunday's game.
There was no injury, Backstrom simply sat out of Sunday's game to rest.
"It's just maintenance," he said Tuesday.
While it is not uncommon to see superstar players get the night off for "load management" in the NBA, it is not something we tend to see in the NHL. Sure, some players may not play the last one or two games before the playoffs, but otherwise, if a key player is healthy, he plays.
Not only did Backstrom not play in Sunday's game, however, it also sounds like it may not be the last game he gets scratched. When asked if other veteran players could be given games off for body maintenance, Laviolette said, "Absolutely."
Washington is one of the oldest teams in the NHL and running out of gas in the playoffs is a legitimate concern. That seemed to happen to them in their first-round series in 2021 against the Boston Bruins that ended in just five games.
In addition to taking games off, Laviolette may also look to limit minutes within a game. In Saturday's game in Pittsburgh, Laviolette said part of his strategy was to roll all four lines as much as possible to keep the team somewhat fresh for the second leg of the back-to-back against Boston on Sunday.
"The fact that we were able to manage minutes and keep guys inside certain markers I thought was good," Laviolette said. "Because we were able to do it in Pittsburgh, I felt like it left juice for the game against Boston the next night."
While it may go against the norm of what we typically see in hockey, fans should prepare themselves to see more "body maintenance' absences in the final nine games of the season as the Caps prepare for a grueling and, they hope, long postseason.