Capitals forwards T.J. Oshie, Conor Sheary and Nicklas Backstrom all were cleared for contact Friday, head coach Peter Laviolette confirmed. All three players were full participants in Friday's practice skating in regular jerseys instead of the blue non-contact jersey.
"Oshie and Sheary have been part of the group the entire year and Backy has been working towards something, it just so happened that today they all kind of came back together which is really good," Laviolette said.
Laviolette said Oshie and Sheary were closer to a return than Backstrom and did not rule them out for Saturday's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
"The guys that have been playing all along probably are getting close and Backy, we're still going to go in and talk and make sure that things are good," Laviolette said. "We don't want to put him in a situation where he's not ready for something."
Oshie has been out with a lower-body injury while Sheary has been dealing with an upper-body injury. Both players have missed the six games. They were late scratches on Nov. 21 against the Seattle Kraken after both played the night before in San Jose.
Friday marks the first time that Backstrom has been cleared for contact this season. Backstrom suffered an injury to his left hip at the end of last season and that injury has lingered until now, keeping him out of the first two months. This is the most significant step Backstrom has taken towards a return thus far.
"It's great to have [Backstrom] out there, just watching him out there and seeing the smile on his face," Laviolette said. "When you're at the beginning of rehab, that smile isn't always there. It's more the work and what you're dealing with and going through things and you see him out there today. It's just great to have him out there. It's positive for our group to see him out there and competing and battling and drills. It's just a really good day for that."
The seemingly close return of Oshie and Sheary and the continued improvement of Backstrom comes at a good time considering the Caps are again dealing with a number of question marks in the lineup.
Carl Hagelin, Garnet Hathaway and John Carlson all did not participate in practice Friday. While they were all initially listed out for maintenance, Laviolette indicated their situations may be more serious than that.
Nic Dowd also did not participate Friday due to an undisclosed illness. A team official would neither confirm nor deny if the illness was COVID-related.
"They weren't on the ice today for a reason and so we're going to go in and evaluate them and see what today did for them and then go from there," Laviolette said.
If the Caps are without any of those forwards on Saturday, options are limited unless Oshie and Sheary are able to return. Mike Sgarbossa was a healthy scratch Thursday and could draw back in if needed. Though the Caps have plenty of cap space for a call-up from Hershey, that may not be considered an option at this point considering Hershey has been dealing with COVID issues and has had its games through the weekend postponed.