Once described by Braden Holtby as “the heartbeat of our team,” Nicklas Backstrom confirmed today he will be in the lineup tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes. It will be his first game with the Capitals since undergoing hip surgery on May 27.
“It’s nice to be back,” said Backstrom, who will center a second line with left wing Marcus Johansson and right wing Justin Williams. “It’s tough to sit and watch the games from the side. It’s fun to be in.
“We actually decided this a couple days ago. I’ve been feeling good and no setbacks. I’ve been trying my best to get back in the lineup as fast as possible with no rush. It’s been working out well so hopefully it will be a good one tonight.”
Backstrom, 27, led the NHL in assists last season with 60. He played in all 82 games and 14 playoff games but decided that if he hoped to continue to play at a high level he would need to repair his hip.
“I felt like it had to be done,” Backstrom said. “Five months after, I’m really happy about it. It feels better out there. Sometimes you’ve got to go through it.”
Trotz kept the first line of Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie and the third line of Jason Chimera, Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson intact, while creating a new fourth line of Brooks Laich, Chandler Stephenson and Andre Burakovsky.
“Marcus is skating really well and he’s played with Backy before,” Trotz said, “and with Williams he’s another veteran guy and I think they can complement each other with the way Backy thinks and moves the puck.”
Williams, who has no goals and two assists in his first three games, said he’s excited to play with Backstrom for the first time in his career.
“I know I’m going to get a lot of chances and a lot of looks and hopefully we’ll play with the puck a lot tonight,” he said. “I think people short-change his ability to score because of the amount of assists he has every year, but he can put the puck in the net as well. He’s itching to go and I want to get him off on a good foot and myself going as well.”
Trotz said there are no ice time limitations for Backstrom, saying he’ll monitor his energy level throughout the game.
“Nick may get to a point where he gets a little fatigued,” Trotz said, “and then I could put Andre back there if I want to.”
Burakovsky, 20, had just one assist in his first three games while centering Johansson and Williams.
“He won’t be on the fourth line too long,” Trotz said.
With Backstrom and Stephenson in the lineup, center Michael Latta and right wing Stan Galiev, along with defenseman Nate Schmidt, are expected to be healthy scratches tonight.