ARLINGTON, V.A. — “I missed you guys. Did you miss me?” Nicklas Backstrom asks. He stands at the Washington Capitals podium, addressing the media for the first time in a long time following a productive practice on Monday.
He took part in line rushes for the first time this season, centering the second line with Conor Sheary, T.J. Oshie and Brett Leason and also worked on the top power-play unit and also got more involved physically in drills.
Ultimately, No. 19 said he feels like things are returning to normal — for the most part.
“I’m getting some repetition and it’s feeling better,” Backstrom said. “So I mean, it’s just getting some repetition with the guys, I think and getting into those system, how we play. Just got to refresh my memory.”
The 34-year-old missed the start of training camp while rehabilitating a hip injury. He went on the LTIR and has missed the first 28 games of the 2021-22 campaign. Backstrom started his road to recovery skating on his own with strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish before getting back into full gear. He joined the team for the first time this season for practice on Nov. 24 and was cleared for contact on Dec. 3.
Head coach Peter Laviolette has seen major progress and improvement from Backstrom, who led the Capitals in scoring last year with 53 points in 55 games.
“Probably the biggest thing you notice is the smile on his face, and so that’s a real good sign,” Laviolette noted.
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That smile has come from being back with his teammates. Backstrom noted that, while he has been getting his skating back, it was great to be reunited with the group and get back into the swing of the systems.
“It’s just nice to be skating with the guys, you know, I think skating by yourself actually sucks, I think, so… I love Nemo as a guy but skating just me and him, it’s been tough,” Backstrom laughed. “But it’s nice to get out there and compete with the guys and just take line rushes.”
And, despite things returning to a more regular routine for Backstrom, he noted that the journey to this point has been long, and not exactly what he expected.
“It’s been a little bit of a roller coaster I think, especially an emotional one,” Backstrom explained. “Some days early on, you’re kind of like, getting down a little bit. but at the same time I mean, now we’re here and it’s feeling good, which is what we all hoped for. So hopefully it stays that way.”
Going forward, the Capitals veteran knows that getting back to full speed will be a process. He didn’t rule out a return on Wednesday when Washington faces off against the Chicago Blackhawks, but he feels his game is coming back to him as he continues to progress.
“It’s gonna be different. But at the same time I think yeah we’ll see how it goes when I start playing and how I’m going to react to everything. In practice right now I’m feeling good, so hopefully, that stays the same during the game,” Backstrom said.
‘The last couple of weeks… skating has been coming back and just repetition every day has been great,” he added. “It’s been a long journey but fun to skate with the guys again.”