The absence of Washington Capitals forward Nicklas Backstrom from the team's lineup has been painfully apparent. The Caps' star playmaker has been sidelined since January 3 with a concussion and without him, they have struggled to maintain any sort of consistency.
Yet, Washington - the team and its fans - was the bearer of good news Wednesday when WashingtonCaps.com Senior Writer Mike Vogel announced that Backstrom was skating for the second time in as many days (he also skated Tuesday, according to Vogel), marking the first time he had skated two consecutive days since Jan. 5-6. According to The Washington Post's Tarik El-Bashir, Backstrom skated in full pads for about 20 minutes at Kettler Capitals Iceplex and felt "good" afterwards, according to a team spokesman. Backstrom was not made available to the media Wednesday, but Vogel caught up with him after he left the ice:
“I’ve been improving a lot,” Backstrom said to Vogel. “I don’t have the same feeling as I had when I first got the hit. We’re on a program right now and I just got back from Sweden. It feels better. I started skating. You’ve got to see where you are.”
Backstrom returned to Sweden last week to get away from hockey and visit his family, but El-Bashir reported that Backstrom "skated lightly" while he was there. Regardless, Backstrom has noticed a tangible difference in his overall health and both he and the team are proceeding with cautious optimism.
“It’s day and night, I think,” Backstrom said. “It’s different. I feel better now, too. That’s a good sign, I think. But I don’t know anything else. I just know that I’m skating the last two days.”
Despite positive developments, there is no timetable for Backstrom's return. The Caps have 12 regular season games, so unless there is a deep playoff run (if they make the playoffs, of course), it is possible that Backstrom will not return until next season. Either way, it is a great sign that Backstrom - who still ranks fourth on the team in scoring with 38 points - is on the mend.
"We'll see what happens," Backstrom said. "The only thing I can tell you now is I'm on the ice skating light. We'll go from there. It's a process and we're working on it. I want to be out there so bad. A concussion is nothing to play around with. You want to make sure you're 100 percent before you go out there."
Yet, there is one Cap that might never make it to DC. According to Yahoo! Sports' Dmitry Chesnokov, prospect Evgeny Kuznetsov told Russia's KHL-TV that he will indeed stay in the KHL instead of heading to Washington to play in the NHL:
‘To be honest, my decision has been reached,” Kuznetsov said as reported by The Washington Post. “It is my intention to continue my career in the KHL. At the same time there is no clarity as to which club it will be.”
General Manager George McPhee had hoped that Kuznetsov would join the Caps next season, but that might not be the case now. Money could be an issue (when is it not?) as Kuznetsov could make four or five times more by remaining in the KHL than if he signed an entry-level contract with Washington, according to Slava Malamud. Malamud also reports that Russian newspaper Sport-Express "speculates that the Caps’ struggles this year, Dale Hunter’s defensive approach and Alex Ovechkin’s decline in productivity are also among the reasons."
That, for lack of a better term, is not good for the Caps.
Adam Vingan is co-founder and editor of Kings Of Leonsis, a Caps-centric blog, and is the Capitals Editor for SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter @Adam_KOL and e-mail your story ideas to adamvingan (at) gmail.com.