Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
The Caps' top pivot is healthy and ready to go...
Nicklas Backstrom and Anders Lindback - who will face one another in tonight's season opener in Tampa - talked to their hometown paper Gefle Dagblad about facing off against each other in the first game of the season. They both came up through the Brynäs system but have hardly ever played on the same team. Although they haven't played much together, they trained together growing up and train together now in the summers after their NHL careers took off.
In both cities, it appears that people have maintained their hockey interest during the lockout. On Thursday, the Washington Capitals invited fans to attend a special practice at the Verizon Center, complete with free hot dogs, soda, popcorn, pretzels, nachos and ice cream for everyone who came out to watch.
"We have never done something like that before. It probably has something to do with the lockout, that you want to spend a little extra," said Nicklas Backstrom. "It's pretty obvious that people have been longing for this. We had quite the crowd at the first practice, and then it's been about the same all week.
Anders Lindbäck told the same story from down in Florida. "We had our camp in Naples and there were lots of people in the stands throughout the camp. I'm really impressed by the fans here."
With a game schedule that has only been out for a week, NHL clubs had to get everything organized in record time, and the same has been true for the players.
"We have a new coach this year and we have to learn a new system in a very short time, but I think it has felt good in the few days we had at our disposal. It's so much fun to be doing this again and to just get started," said Backstrom.
Backstrom discussed the new system under Oates.
"It's more aggressive than before. We want to be a more aggressive team. I think that will benefit us," Backstrom said.
Backstrom talked about how the new system will impact him.
"When you're a center, the game is pretty similar no matter what system you play, so no major changes for me really. It's a different situation for the wingers and D men though, they notice the changes more. That's why it's good to be the center, hehe."
Just like sometimes last season, Backstrom will continue to play with Marcus Johansson and Alexander Ovechkin. But just a few weeks ago he wasn't sure if he would be able to play in the season opener at all. After taking a hit in a game with Dynamo Moscow, he fell in an unfortunate way.
"I fell backwards and hit the back of my head into the boards," explained Backstrom.
After the hit, Backstrom experienced neck pains and took a proactive approach to resolve the situation. He traveled to Michigan to be examined by a brain expert.
"When you have had the type of concussion as I had last season you get to be a little bit nervous in situations like that. I wanted to check things out thoroughly. It's important not to leave anything to chance," Backstrom said.
After a thorough examination which included x-rays, Backstrom received reassuring news. The doctor reported that he did not have a new concussion.
"I'm fully recovered now and it feels pretty damn good."
Now he awaits a 48-game season.
"There will be an intense, four games a week schedule. But that's what you want, to play as many games as possible. It will be fun and I look at it as a challenge."
The first game for Backstrom is against the Tampa Bay Lightning, which is also Anders Lindbäck's new home.
"It feels great to start the season against that team, and it's really fun for Lindbäck that he has come to a team where he will get the chance to be the starter. I think he has earned that," said Backstrom.
Lindbäck played 13 games for the Finnish team Ilves during the lockout and was injured.
"I got a shot that gave me a wound on the knee cap. It made it difficult to move and it took longer for it to heal than I expected," said Lindback.
Now Lindback competes with Mathieu Garon and would naturally prefer to play right away but he doesn't want to take anything for granted.
"We still haven't found out who gets the first start. It's a tight schedule, so we will probably take turns," reported Lindback.
There is some disagreement on which of the two Gävle guys will have the upper hand over the other.
"I have to say that I find it really hard to find openings on Lindbäck. He's big but still manages to move quickly and cover all the angles. I'm not an expert on him, I think it's more that he is an expert on me," said Backstrom.
"He did score on me the last time we met, he walked around the cage and if I remember it correctly he put it top shelf in the far right corner on me. So I'll probably have to return that right back to him and say that he knows me better and the pressure to win should be on him," said Lindbäck with a laugh.