On Friday night, Matt Niskanen missed his first game since signing with the Capitals in 2014, staying in Washington as his teammates beat the Sabres 4-1 in Buffalo. Two days earlier, he suffered an upper-body injury after being hit by the Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron, with Niskanen’s head face-planting into the boards. Bergeron received a two-minute minor penalty.
Niskanen was back on the ice Saturday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, practicing with his teammates for the first time since his injury. He is undergoing the NHL’s concussion protocol to determine if he has a head injury. While cleared for contact in practice, Niskanen is not yet allowed to play.
At the start of Saturday’s session, Niskanen was taking it easy and not participating in rushes, though he later partook in drills with his teammates.
“I wanted to join the group today,” Niskanen said after leaving the ice. “I was cleared to do that. I needed a little bit of extra work because I haven’t been on the ice for a few days. Tested a few things out and I thought it went well so far.”
“I’m getting a lot better,” Niskanen added. “I thought maybe I was close to coming back, but they decided to hold me out just to be cautious. We’ll see where that takes me here in the next few days.”
Niskanen’s status for Sunday’s game is uncertain, leaving his ironman status in doubt. He has played in at least 81 games since the 2013-14 season when he was with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“I’m proud of the durability that I’ve had, but the streak is no big deal in the big picture,” Niskanen said. “I don’t like sitting out if you don’t have to, but the situation called for that. Whenever I get back in there, I’ll be ready to go.”
While some thought Bergeron’s hit was malicious, Niskanen does not see it that way. In fact, the Capitals defensemen, who is averaging almost 23 minutes a game this season playing the top pairing, took some of the blame for the injury.
“I lost my balance the wrong distance from the boards,” Niskanen said. “If I’m two feet closer to the boards, nothing happens. If I’m two feet further away, nothing happens. Those kind of things happen.”
Niskanen said Bergeron texted him after the hit to check on him.
“He’s not a vicious player,” Niskanen said. “I appreciated him reaching out. That was a classy thing to do. He didn’t have to do that.”
UPDATE: On Sunday morning, Capitals sent down defenseman Aaron Ness, who traveled to Buffalo in Niskanen’s stead but did not play. This is obviously good news for Niskanen’s return, though we still are not sure when it will occur. Capitals head coach Barry Trotz will speak to reporters at around three o’clock in the afternoon, two hours before Washington’s faceoff with the Vancouver Canucks.
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