Oates has interesting view of Backstrom-Ovi relationship
Is John Erskine ready to bring his snarl back to the Capitals?
What’s next for Michal Neuvirth?
And when will Brooks Laich finally return to the lineup?
Capitals coach Adam Oates addressed all three topics after Thursday’s practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, saying Erskine is making the team’s trip to Sunrise to face the Florida Panthers on Friday, Laich is not, and Neuvirth will get a rehab start with the Hershey Bears Friday night.
Erskine, 33, has not played since Oct. 26, when pain and swelling in his left knee forced him out of the lineup. Erskine said he’s made significant progress in the past two weeks.
“For three weeks it had kind of pleateaued and now it’s progressing every day and it’s starting to get stronger,” he said. “Things are looking up now.
“I still get pain, but I’m getting muscle around [the knee] to give it that stability. I have a little more power now. Before, there was nothing there.”
Erskine is questionable for Friday night’s game against the Panthers but he could be in the lineup Sunday afternoon when the Capitals face the Flyers for the first time since their brawlfest on Nov. 1.
“Obviously, toughness is an element of the game and that’s one of the things he brings and you can never have enough,” Oates said. “But I don’t think we’ve been run out of any building, either.”
Oates said he would decide on Erskine after the club’s morning skate on Friday, adding he’s “an important part of our team.”
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Since the Capitals probably would not like to overtax Erskine, who plays the left side, they are likely to start him on a third pairing with either right-handed Steve Oleksy or left-handed Nate Schmidt.
“He looks like he’s moving better to me,” Oates said of Erskine. “He looks more like last year. You’ve got to be able to skate. You can’t hide. You can’t not gap up. You’ve got to play 200 feet.”
Neuvirth has been sidelined since Black Friday with a lower body injury and he agreed to make a conditioning start with the Bears Friday night in Wilkes Barre-Scranton against the Baby Penguins.
“He didn’t bat an eye,” Oates said. “It’s his decision.”
Oates said there is a chance Neuvirth also plays in the Bears’ home game against Binghamton on Saturday. If he gets through both games with no issues he is expected to be back with the Caps either Sunday or Monday.
Which leads us to Laich, who has been sidelined since Nov. 27 with groin pain. The 30-year-old center/left wing skated on his own for the second straight day on Thursday but did not practice with the Caps.
“I didn’t watch him because it’s not a practice,” Oates said. “I don’t want to get my hopes up until he skates with the team. We went through this too many times last year. He said to me yesterday, ‘I want to go to Florida and practice with you,’ and I said, ‘Well, if you can’t skate tomorrow for five minutes, no.’ We all decided he’s not going to go. He needs to get some practices in. We just don’t want to be teased and we don’t want to put him in a position to rush it.”