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Capitals' Nicklas Backstrom visiting specialist about neck

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Sports,NHL,Capitals,Brian McNally

Center suffered injury while playing in Russia

The Capitals confirmed a report Wednesday that star center Nicklas Backstrom will see a specialist in Michigan for a reported neck injury he suffered during a game in Russia on Dec. 26.

Backstrom, 25, was checked from behind and landed awkwardly into the boards during a Kontinental Hockey League game for Dynamo Moscow. The upcoming specialist visit was first reported by the popular fan blog Russian Machine Never Breaks.

"Nick and his agent informed us that they are being proactive with his injury and decided to visit a specialist prior to training camp," a Caps spokesman said. "Obviously, until camp officially starts, teams cannot perform physicals on any player."

That will not happen until the NHL Players' Association and league owners both ratify the new collective bargaining agreement that ended the 113-day lockout Sunday. Backstrom was at Kettler Iceplex on Tuesday for the first time. Washington general manager George McPhee declined to comment on Backstrom's status that day, citing the pending CBA, and the Swede wasn't seen on the ice during a workout or around the locker room. His teammates admit losing Backstrom early in a short season would pose a challenge.

"[Backstrom is] a little disappointed at the timing of it right now because we've waited so long to play. He wants to come back, and he wants to start with us," said teammate Troy Brouwer, who has been in touch with Backstrom. "He wants to be in camp, and he wants to be around the guys, and I think that's what really kills him the most. I think he kind of feels like he's letting the players down, but we know how [random] injuries can be."

Backstrom, of course, missed 40 games last season but was brilliant when he was actually on the ice with 14 goals and 30 assists. But a concussion suffered Jan. 3, 2012, against the Calgary Flames sidetracked his season. Backstrom fought symptoms for months but eventually returned to the ice in late March for the final four games of the regular season and then had two goals and six assists in 13 playoff games.

"Nicky is one of our go-to guys in the locker room, go-to guys on the ice. He's a leader on our team, and we're gonna miss him. Without a doubt," teammate Matt Hendricks said. "We're gonna miss the way he plays and the way he produces and things like that. But we're going to do our best to win hockey games without him if he's not gonna be around. That's neither here nor there -- we don't know what's going on, and camp hasn't even opened up yet."

Backstrom had 10 goals and 15 assists in 19 games in the KHL this fall and winter playing on a line with Washington teammate Alex Ovechkin.

"Hopefully nothing is too serious and it's not going to drag out too long," Brouwer said. "He has to make sure that he's fully healthy and make sure that he's ready to go because we don't want him to come back early just because it's the start of the season and miss more time. He's got to do what's best for him."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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