The Olympic break means different things for different NHL teams. For the Capitals, it could mean getting a handful of players back in good health for the 23-game stretch run.On the blue line, Mike Green hasn’t played since suffering a concussion on Jan. 30 in Columbus, John Erskine [left knee] was shut down after the Caps’ 1-0 loss to the Islanders on Feb. 4, and Jack Hillen has not played since breaking his right leg on Oct. 3.
Green was playing his best hockey of the season before the concussion and reported progress while practicing with the team last week. He’s expected to be cleared for full contact when the Caps return to the ice on Feb. 19.
The Caps are hoping some time in the weight room will help Erskine regain some of the strength he’s lost since returning from off season knee surgery.“It took a while for that leg to recover,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said. “He’s come back and he’s taken a lot of bumps and bruises. It’s a little achey, so we’re going to give him a rest to replenish and get it back.”
And then there’s Hillen, who fractured the bone just below his right knee when he was checked by Calgary Flames center Lance Bouma in the Capitals’ second game of the season.
With the Capitals’ training facility at Kettler Capitals Iceplex closed to players until Feb. 19, Hillen has retuned to Minnesota, where he will continue with his strength and conditioning in an attempt to return to the Caps’ lineup after the break.
“It’s gotten better but it’s not where it needs to be,” Hillen said. “I’m really hoping when we get back here to practice I can do more battles and it will let me know where I’m at and if I can play right away. I’ll know. You know if you’re ready or not.”
Hillen said he’ll skate with his old high school team and will probably skate outdoors a few times, saying he doesn’t want to lose any of the progress he’s made since returning to the ice midway though January. He said a week of hard practices will help determine how close he is to returning.
“We could sure use him,” said Oates, who has used 13 different defensemen this season. “We’ve got to make sure he’s ready and not push it too fast.” Overall, Hillen said he is “very encouraged” by his progress, especially when he considers the severity of the injury and the amount of reconstruction that was done during his Oct. 5 surgery.
“I’m ahead of schedule,” he said. “It could have been six months or it could have been a career-ending injury. I’m very, very encouraged. I’m being as positive as I can. I’m happy with my conditioning. It’s managing pain and trying to get strength back. I can skate, but can I battle with the big guys? That’s what I need to find out.” On the front end, the Capitals are hoping the two-week break will help Mikhail Grabovski [left ankle], Aaron Volpatti [left arm/shoulder] and Brooks Laich [groin tightness] return to work in better health.
Grabovski has been sidelined since Jan. 24, Volpatti since Feb. 2 and Laich has missed 15 games with groin-related issues.