By Sky Kerstein

The Caps held an optional practice today following their collapse last night to the Winnipeg Jets and had some great news.  Star center Nicklas Backstrom, who hasn’t played since January 3rd with a concussion, skated with the team for this first time today since his injury and is fully cleared with no restrictions.

“He’s big part of our team and a great guy in the room,”  Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said on Backstrom.  “So now that we get to hang out with him again it’s pretty nice.”

Backstrom now has to work himself into game shape while staying symptom free.  He skated for ten of the last eleven days before being cleared to practice today.  Once Backstrom is in game shape and ready to return, he will have to pass a neuropsychological test and then be cleared by a doctor according to team trainer Greg Smith.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for 2 and 1/2 months, kind of happy right now,”  Backstrom said.  “It’s good to practice with the guys and feels pretty good out there.”

Backstrom has missed the last 37 games and is still fourth on team in points with 42 (13 goals, 29 assists).  Alex Ovechkin (57), Alexander Semin (46) and Dennis Wideman (45) are the only ones who have more.

“That’s awesome. You know it’s awesome for the team, that’s awesome for him,”  Capitals Head Coach Dale Hunter said.  “He’s a competitor that wants to play in these crucial games and I’m just glad to see that he’s nice and healthy now.”

Backstrom’s fellow linemate, Alex Ovechkin, is also happy to see him out there.

“It’s good sign for us,”  Ovechkin said.  “Everybody knows we miss him. He’s that kind of guy we need right now. So I hope he’s going to be OK and he going to help us in these kind of games.”

Backstrom still has a little ways to go as he tries to get himself in game shape.

“It’s kind of like, feels like you’re back in training camp,”  Backstrom said.  “You got to be careful and make sure your 100 percent before you go back because you don’t want to get any set backs.”

There is no timeline for Backstrom’s return, but he wants to be be back before the regular season ends.

“Yeah absolutely, I want to be back as soon as possible,”  Backstrom said.

The players who skated with Backstrom today during the optional skate were:  Aucoin, Orlov, Alzner, Schultz, Perreault, Carlson, Halpern, Chimera, Neuvirth, Vokoun, Holtby, Johansson, Beagle.

Caps forward Joel Ward, who was on crutches yesterday and missed yesterday’s game, is still day-to-day.

“He’s better,”  Hunter said on Ward.  “He’s off crutches right now.”

Hunter would not say if Ward would be back tomorrow.

The Caps also re-assigned forward Cody Eakin back to the Hershey Bears.  Eakin was brought up for yesterday’s game in case Alexander Semin couldn’t go and did not play.

The Caps are tied with 82 points with the Buffalo Sabres, who they host on Tuesday, for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.  The Caps are also two points behind the Ottawa Senators for the 7th spot in the East and four points behind the Florida Panthers for tops in the Southeast Division.  The Minnesota Wild play the Buffalo Sabres in Buffalo tonight before they fly down to DC to play the Caps at Verizon Center for a 5pm faceoff tomorrow.

Listen here to what Dale Hunter, Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin & Karl Alzner had to say today at practice.

Dale Hunter Practice Audio

Nicklas Backstrom Practice Audio

Alex Ovechkin Practice Audio

Karl Alzner Practice Audio


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