The Washington Times - January 23, 2012, 10:31AM

It was a welcome sight, as one fan yelled to another, “I told you to get here early.” Concussed Washington Capitals leading scorer Nicklas Backstrom was skating all alone at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

Wearing red sweatpants, a red hoodie and hat, Backstrom skated around for roughly five minutes, stick-handling a bit and tapping the puck lightly. He was not going at full speed.

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Before going any further, it’s no indication that Backstrom is ready to return or even close to it. But Monday’s skating session represented at least some form of progress. It was the first time Backstrom skated at all since Jan. 6 in San Jose.

“Yeah, he skated,” coach Dale Hunter said. “So that’s good. He’s back on the ice and we’ll go from there.

Backstrom will stay in the D.C. area and work with trainer Greg Smith over the break, Hunter said.

“He’s riding the bike. He’s coming,” the coach said. “It’s a process.”

Backstrom, who was hurt on a cheap-shot elbow by Rene Bourque on Jan. 3, has missed the past nine games. He’s still the leading scorer with 42 points (13 goals, 29 assists).

Backstrom was not made available to speak to reporters Monday.

As recently as last week, general manager George McPhee was not willing to admit that Backstrom would be out until the All-Star break.

“Not necessarily. Whenever he’s ready to get going, we’ll get him going,” McPhee said. “But obviously we’re going to be real careful because we want this to be a one time thing and something we never have to worry about again.”

It would now obviously take nothing short of a miracle for Backstrom to return before the All-Star break. Jay Beagle, who suffered a concussion Oct. 13, started ramping up in early December and was back Dec. 28.

But teammate and friend Marcus Johansson was happy to see Backstrom make some progress.

“It’s good to see that he is improving,” Johansson said. “Hopefully he can be back soon – both for his team and for his own sake that he feels good.”