- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 8, 2019

ARLINGTON — Center Nicklas Backstrom is expected to play Monday when the Washington Capitals host the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Backstrom missed the last eight games with an upper-body injury.

“As of today, I’m good to go,” Backstrom said. “I woke up and felt good.”

Coach Todd Reirden said Backstrom will center the top line between Alex Ovechkin and Tom Wilson, with Jakub Vrana, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie comprising the second line.

“It was good to see (Backstrom) out there in full practice,” Reirden said. “Did some drills specifically to help him prepare for tomorrow.”



Backstrom’s return is notable not only because he is one of the Capitals’ best players, but also because Monday will mark the first time all year that Washington (22-4-5, 49 points) will have its ideal lineup completely healthy.

Defenseman Michal Kempny missed the start of the season while recovering from a torn hamstring he suffered in March. Then forwards Richard Panik, Nic Dowd and Carl Hagelin missed time with various injuries, with Panik and Hagelin each needing stints on long-term injured reserve.

Before Hagelin came back, Backstrom took a turn out of the lineup with an upper-body injury he sustained Nov. 18 against the Anaheim Ducks.

Yet the Capitals compiled the best record in the NHL over the first eight weeks of the season, which has included a 14-2-1 record on the road even though the schedule included long trips to Western Canada and California.

Reirden said the sustained winning was a testament to the Capitals’ depth.

“It’s a clear understanding that it’s a competitive situation that we’ve had since training camp, that players are ready to take advantage of their opportunities that they get and they know that they need to,” he said. “Otherwise there’s a chance they could find themselves on the outside. The inner competition we’ve had has probably helped push that a little bit. That’s been a good problem to have, and it’s allowed us to see some other players get opportunities and showcase some of the abilities they have.”

After playing Columbus, the Capitals host the Boston Bruins (20-4-6, 46 points) Wednesday in a battle of the two top teams in the NHL.

“As of right now we’re playing good hockey and we’re getting the points we need,” Backstrom said. “But yeah, I mean, it’s still early in the season. You just gotta keep (building). We’re a team that is building for upcoming things.”

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