- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2012

LOS ANGELES — By the time the Washington Capitals stepped onto the ice Monday night for their game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center, any questions about whether center Nicklas Backstrom or defenseman Mike Green would play had been answered.

Backstrom (head injury) and Green (groin) were flown back to the D.C. area early.

“Right now, it’s no sense having an all-night flight and you get them home early and get a workout in tomorrow and some treatment tomorrow,” coach Dale Hunter said. “Basically day-to-day. We’re being cautious with both of them.”

There’s no indication of if they’ll be able to play when the Capitals face the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday night at Verizon Center. Hunter said “it’s too early to tell.”

With that kind of uncertainty, the Caps know they have a lot to make up for.

“At their position, [they] are probably arguably the best players. Other guys just have to step up and chip [in] a little bit more than they’re used to,” goaltender Tomas Vokoun said. “That’s why you have the other guys who can go from third line to second and vice versa. Obviously, it’s not something you wanted to have, but everybody goes through injuries during the year, and you’ve got to deal with them.”

Backstrom leads the Capitals in scoring with 42 points (13 goals and 29 assists). And Green, when healthy, has the potential to add serious offense from the back end.

Players conceded Backstrom and Green being out was somewhat deflating, but Mike Knuble said the recent development was too fresh for players to think about.

“It’s just kind of a day-to-day, who’s in, who’s out. I don’t think it’s weighting on anybody yet,” the veteran right wing said. “Mike has been out a lot, so we’re kind of used to that.”

Green has only played in 10 of the Caps’ 40 games and has been on the ice for just 30:04 since late October. His absence means a blue line with either John Erskine, who played Monday night, or Jeff Schultz, in the lineup.

Backstrom’s absence is new. The 24-year-old skated twice last week after taking an elbow to the head from Calgary’s Rene Bourque and reported feeling fine. Then he missed both games in California.

“It’s again day-to-day and we’re being very cautious with him, just like we would do with any player,” Hunter said.

It means opportunity for players such as Knuble, who gets to play on the second line with Backstrom out, and Mathieu Perreault, who gets to play, period.

“It’s a chance for me to maybe get a little more ice time and more opportunity to do good things,” Perreault said. “For sure, they’re not players you can replace. But we’ve got some good depth, and we feel like we can still win.”

A team winning without its best players is commonly referred to as the Patrick Ewing effect, a term coined in the 1990s for the New York Knicks performing better without the Georgetown product. It’s hard to equate that to hockey and what Backstrom and Green bring to the Capitals, which is part of the reason why players aren’t dwelling on them being out.

“Once we get to the rink and we step on the ice, it’s not something we think about,” Perreault said. “They’re some of our best players, and it’s tough when they’re not there, but we just have to regroup and work harder and hopefully get the job done.”

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