ARLINGTON, Va. -- With Nicklas Backstrom, Nic Dowd and Carl Hagelin injured plus Garnet Hathway suspended, the last two weeks have seen the Capitals forced into a number of uncomfortable situations. From playing a game with seven defensemen, to utilizing a bottom-six that at times resembled a Hershey Bears lineup more than an NHL one, the Caps have done everything they possibly could to navigate a crippling cap crunch. On Monday, the news finally started to turn positive on the injury front.

Nic Dowd has not yet been medically cleared to play, but said after practice on Monday that he should be available for Wednesday’s game against the Florida Panthers. Head coach Todd Reirden echoed that sentiment.

“That's what we're hoping for,” Reirden said. “He made some good strides today and went through a full practice. As long as when I check in with the trainers today everything is fine, then we'll continue to push forward.”

Dowd has been out of the lineup since Nov. 13 with an upper-body injury. When the team reassigned forward Mike Sgarbossa to the AHL on Sunday, it suggested someone must be close to getting back into the lineup. That player is almost certainly Dowd.

Backstrom, also out with an upper-body injury, was on the ice before practice on Monday working with strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish.

The typical trajectory for injured players is to do individual workouts with Nemish before practice, then become a non-contact participant in practice, become a full participant in practice and finally return to game action.


Backstrom will not play Wednesday, but returning to the ice is a good step towards his recovery.

Carl Hagelin was a full participant in practice on Monday, finally shedding his non-contact jersey. Because he is on long-term injured reserve, he is not eligible to be activated until Dec. 2. If he continues to practice without issue, it is likely that he will be able to be reactivated on that day and play in the team’s next game on Dec. 3 in San Jose.

The near return of all three injured players plus Hathaway will once again force the team into some difficult decisions to get under the cap. Further complicating matters is the fact that Washington is about to leave town for its California road trip. The team plays in Detroit on Nov. 30, then flies to California for games in San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim in the first week of December.

Washington had more flexibility in the last few weeks with a home-heavy schedule. What little travel there was remained on the East Coast making it easier to call up players with Hershey a short trip away. The team will not have that luxury in California. No doubt they would like to carry at least one spare forward and defenseman on the roster as it will be much harder to replace an injured player so far from home, but they just may not have the cap space to do it.