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Capitals’ Backstrom, Wilson Closing in on Season Debuts

Both forwards should help boost the Capitals’ offense but don’t expect their return to affect trade deadline plans.

The Washington Capitals have been decimated by injuries this season, most notably to a pair of top-six forwards in Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson, both of whom have yet to play this season. Backstrom underwent off-season surgery on both hips while Wilson has been recovering from an ACL tear suffered late last season.

After a slow start, the Capitals have surged despite ailments up and down the lineup — John Carlson is also currently sidelined — as they sit in the top Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, albeit with a few more games played than those closest to their tail.

That said, head coach Peter Laviolette delivered some excellent news for the club on Wednesday. According to The Athletic’s Tarik El-Bashir, Laviolette told reporters that while Backstrom and Wilson won’t travel to Columbus for Thursday’s contest with the Blue Jackets, their return could be soon thereafter.

Dylan Strome and Conor Sheary have filled in for Backstrom and Wilson on the team’s top line alongside Alex Ovechkin and both have done adequate jobs. Strome has tallied 28 points — including 12 on the power play — across 40 games while Sheary has notched 27 points — eight over his last five games — in his 40 games this season.

The Offense Could Use Boost

While the Capitals have crawled back into contention, the offense could still use the boost that Backstrom and Wilson can provide. Both are proven producers. Wilson is coming off of a 24-goal season with 52 points in 78 games and Backstrom posted 31 points in 47 games in 2021-22.

Tom Wilson Nicklas Backstrom Capitals
Tom Wilson Nicklas Backstrom Capitals

The club has moved up into a share of 10th with 3.28 goals per game on the season while their power play ranks 17th at 21.7%. However, they slip into the middle of the pack at 15th in expected goals for per 60 minutes at five-on-five and 17th in high-danger chances in the same scenario. The Capitals rank third in overall offense since the first of December to approach the top 10, but there’s little doubt Backstrom and Wilson will be welcomed back with open arms.

Returns Unlikely to Affect Deadline Plans

Of course, the Capitals will be all-in on winning during the Ovechkin era as he chases Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goals record. In fact, owner Ted Leonsis said as much in mid-December.

“I’m not gonna do what I did last time and trade everybody,” Leonsis told ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski during the Capitals’ early-season struggles. “I’m sure there’ll be an influx of some young players, but we’re not gonna rebuild the team,” he added. “To me, a rebuild is when you look the players, the coaches, the fans in the eye and say we’re gonna be really, really bad. And if we were really, really bad, I don’t think Alex would break the record.”

While the returns of Backstrom and Wilson act as trade-deadline acquisitions from within, expect the Capitals to once again be notable buyers prior to March 3.

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