ARLINGTON, V.A. — The Washington Capitals got a wildly positive sign on the Nicklas Backstrom front, as he upgraded to a regular jersey on Saturday after spending the last few weeks in a regular jersey. While it's a step forward, the Capitals made it clear that No. 19 still has work to do before suiting up.
"He's a ways away," the team said.
Backstrom underwent hip resurfacing surgery back in June following years of chronic pain and his hip grinding down following surgery for an injury back in 2015. It was a difficult decision for the Swede but vital for his recovery. Now, for the first time in years, he is pain-free.
"I think I tried everything else to make it better," Backstrom explained. "But at the same time, this kind of like, the last resort: unproven technology for sports. I just think that's the biggest thing, but I had to do it because I had no other choice. It's either that, or I'll skate on one leg again.
"It was a life-changer for me in daily life," he added. "Just to pick up socks, tie my shoes, stuff like that, and play with my kids. I couldn't really do that, either. It helped me a lot functionally, and I'm happy about that. That part, I'm feeling great. Now it's just the next step to get me back to the ice."
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Head coach Peter Laviolette said it says a lot about Backstrom's character that he's been able to get to this point before the holiday break, but stressed that the timeline still hasn't changed. Still, the jersey switch is significant, as he can now take contact.
Backstrom isn't the only player making progress. Darcy Kuemper, who is day-to-day with an upper-body injury he suffered on Dec. 3, was a full go at morning skate, and Laviolette added that he is getting closer to a return. The team is "working through" whether or not he will back up or if Hunter Shepard will be the second chair to starter Charlie Lindgren on Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, so he hasn't necessarily been ruled out.
Martin Fehervary, who was also hurt against Calgary, didn't take part in the morning skate but skated with the extras in an extended skate afterward. He was wearing a non-contact jersey. This is the first time he's skated with others, as he has been working on his own while remaining on the IR with an upper-body injury. Alex Alexeyev, who suffered an upper-body injury on Dec. 9 after taking an elbow from Jamie Oleksiak, still isn't skating. He is still around the facility, though.
Beck Malenstyn (finger surgery) also upgraded to a contact jersey. Tom Wilson remains in a non-contact sweater.