SAN JOSE, Calif. — Center Nicklas Backstrom spent two days downplaying concerns about whatever kind of head injury he suffered Tuesday night from Calgary forward Rene Bourque's right elbow. He repeatedly said he's feeling "pretty good" and that he'd be available for the Washington Capitals on Saturday night at the San Jose Sharks.
But Saturday afternoon, coach Dale Hunter confirmed that Backstrom would not play, leaving a gaping hole in the Caps' lineup.
However, veteran Mike Knuble said it was a good thing to not risk further injury right away.
"We've all seen what happens if you put a guy in too early or if he's not feeling right, and it's just potential for a lot more energy and potential for turning a mole hill into a mountain," Knuble said. "It's smart. It's a good idea. It's January. It's not like it's a do-or-die game."
Naturally, it's a game the Caps would like to win, and their chances of doing so would be much higher with Backstrom (13 goals, 29 assists) playing. There's no denying Backstrom's absence hurts, even for a team with a four-game winning streak.
"It's never good when you play without one of the best player on your team. It is what it is and we just have to play our way right now," captain Alex Ovechkin said. "I think it's great game for different guys to step up and play our way, I think, without Nicky."
The Caps will get Alexander Semin back, as he'll take Backstrom's spot on the second line with Marcus Johansson moving to center.
But Backstrom's skill set — from his passing ability, to his importance on the power play and penalty kill, and his ability to defend — is hard to replace.
"He's one of our best players, and he kind of sets everything up," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "He's a big part of this team, and we're never happy when he's not playing because he's a guy you like to have."
Hunter said Backstrom did not suffer any kind of setback and mentioned this was a chance to play it safe.
"You've just got to be careful," the coach said. "He feels good, but you've still got to be careful with it."
Ovechkin mentioned that hits and injuries like this happen in hockey, but Alzner, like Knuble, was supportive of the decision to sit Backstrom at San Jose.
"You've got to be careful with whatever injuries you have, and it's good to make sure everything's OK before he plays," Alzner said.
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