On Friday Nicklas Backstrom and Dale Hunter weren’t willing to reveal anything. But line rushes at Saturday’s morning skate said everything:
Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Marcus Johansson
Welcome Backstrom back to the Washington Capitals’ lineup for Saturday night’s game against the Montreal Canadiens.
“It’s a good day,” forward Brooks Laich said.
It will be Backstrom’s first game since Jan. 3, skating on the first line after missing the past 40.
“Yeah, I’m really excited. It’s going to be fun to play again,” he said. “It’s a big game for us and we need all those points. I’m excited to be back in such an important game.”
Backstrom will get his chance, playing against Rene Bourque, the same person whose cheap-shot elbow caused the concussion. The 24-year-old star center said he wasn’t worried about that. But he did express concern about being mentally ready.
The Caps are more than ready to have him on the ice.
“It’s good for everybody to have Nicky back. He’s one of our best players and he’s irreplaceable,” forward Marcus Johansson said. “We need all the games we can get now so having him back in the lineup will be nice.”
Assistant coach Dean Evason wasn’t concerned.
“I think that’s the least we have to worry about with Nicky is his mental outlook. He’s a pretty strong personality and obviously very prepared, very professional,” Evason said. “We feel very confident that his mind will be there, his confidence will be there.”
While Evason said Backstrom will have to be careful and keep his shifts short after so much time out, the Caps are not easing him back in. Not only will he be on the first line, but there’s no doubt he’ll see power-play time, too.
Asked if he was ready for those kinds of minutes, Backstrom said, “I guess so.”
“We need Nicky and his type of game, he does it easy because his mind’s so good at the hockey game,” Hunter said. “I’ll watch his minutes and see how he is. But he’s a special player; he’s got to play special minutes.”
Want to know Backstrom’s value to the Caps? He has missed almost half of the entire regular season and is still fifth on the team in points with 42.
Cody Eakin will get bumped out of the lineup to make room for Backstrom, who’s returning at the perfect time.
“All of the games is going to be like a playoff game now,” Backstrom said. “I think it’s good for me to get back on that kind of level, I think. You’ve got to be ready right away, and I’m hoping to be.”