The only team to beat the Capitals in April could have a significant boost to its lineup when the clubs meet again Thursday at Verizon Center.
Ottawa Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson participated fully in practice Wednesday and joined the team on its trip to D.C.
The reigning Norris Trophy winner has not played since Feb.13 when his Achilles tendon was sliced in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Karlsson underwent surgery on Feb.14 and was expected to miss four-to-six months. Instead, the 22-year-old is eyeing a return exactly ten weeks after the operation.
“Obviously I wanted to play eight weeks ago but that’s not how you can see things all the time,” Karlsson told reporters Wednesday in Ottawa. “You’ve got to let the body decide every once in a while and even though I’ve been skating a lot lately and it’s been feeling better and better, it still doesn’t feel as it used to.”
The Senators are in 7th place in the Eastern Conference and trail the 6th place New York Islanders by two points with a game-in-hand.
While Karlsson acknowledged that it remains a “slim” chance that he plays against the Capitals, Senators coach Paul MacLean said that the ball is in the young defenseman’s court.
"He's making the trip, which is another step in the process," MacLean said. "His conditioning level continues to get better, up to game speed. I thought he practiced well today. We'll let him ponder overnight and have a pregame skate [Thursday]... Is there a possibility there? We've left that window open where if he feels confident that it's time for him to play, he'll play.”
Karlsson led all defensemen with 78 points in 81 games last season and had 10 points in 14 games this season before the injury.
In addition to playing without Karlsson for 31 straight games, the Senators have also been without No.1 center Jason Spezza for all but five games this season while No.1 goalie Craig Anderson missed 19 games earlier this year with an ankle injury.
Karlsson was paired Wednesday with Marc Methot on Ottawa’s top defensive pairing and said that whenever he returns to the Senators lineup, he expects to take a regular shift and play top minutes.
Karlsson is expected to take part in Ottawa’s morning skate at Verizon Center Thursday and decide shortly thereafter whether he is healthy enough to face the Capitals.
“It’s been ten weeks since it happened, it’s a short period of time so I have to make sure I feel okay and that I don’t take any risks going into next season and hopefully the playoffs.
“For me it’s all about getting the ice-time in and trying to skate as much as I can to try and get that feeling back in my foot. I don’t want to come into a situation where I can hurt myself and I don’t want to be a liability for the team either. I want to feel like I can be out there and contribute.”
Ottawa can clinch a second straight playoff berth by earning two points in any of its remaining three games, or with a Winnipeg Jets’ regulation loss on Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens.
The Senators have lost two straight since beating the Capitals 3-1 last Thursday at ScotiaBank Place. The defeat to Ottawa remains Washington’s only blemish in a 9-1-0 month of April.