Back in Washington after a successful four-game road trip, the Capitals held a sparsely attended optional practice Monday in Arlington.
While most of the players who took part in the road trip didn’t skate, injured defensemen John Erskine, Tomas Kundratek and Tom Poti all made an appearance on the ice. All three are currently on injured reserve and none joined the team on the week-long road trip.
Erskine, who has missed nine consecutive games since suffering a left hand or wrist injury on March 9 at the Islanders, was skating with teammates for the first time in more than two weeks. The rugged defenseman said he hopes to be ready to return to the lineup this weekend.
“I’m hoping to play soon. Hopefully by the weekend but I’ve got to see how I feel tomorrow,” said Erskine, who skated with Kundratek while the team was out of town last week. “I was doing more stuff than usual out there today, so I’ll see how I feel.”
Kundratek sprained his right MCL on March 14 at Carolina and has missed six straight games. He skated briefly on his own on March 17, but Monday’s workout marks the first time he’s participated in any type of team skate.
Coach Adam Oates said he believes Kundratek is “really close” to being able to return to the lineup but the 23-year-old wasn’t quite as certain.
“Every injury is different. I know I had it before, but it’s an injury like other one so I have to get a good treatment on it, and we’ll see how they’re gonna go from there,” said Kundratek, who was relieved to learn he had escaped significant harm to his knee. “I was scared because I felt the knee right away; there was something wrong with [it]. And I was scared because through my head goes like, ‘It’s torn, it’s torn.’ So I was kind of scared, but it’s good.”
Poti has missed four games with a back injury since he was cross-checked by Buffalo’s Steve Ott on March 17. The veteran defenseman skated for roughly 15 minutes but headed into the dressing room before practice began and is “still a little ways away” Oates said.
Whenever Erskine, Kundratek and eventually Poti are healthy and able to return to the lineup the Capitals will have some roster decisions to make. As injuries piled up on the blue line the Capitals have leaned on newcomer Steve Oleksy, top prospect Dmitry Orlov and Jack Hillen, who only just returned from injury himself six games ago. But with a full 23-man active roster, they would need to free up a roster spot for each player that needs to be activated from injured reserve.
“It’s a good problem to have and we’re just gonna make some decisions,” Oates said.
In addition to Erskine, Kundratek and Poti, the only other players on the ice were: Braden Holtby, Michal Neuvirth, Jason Chimera, Mathieu Perreault, Dmitry Orlov, Jack Hillen, Jeff Schultz, Aaron Volpatti and Wojtek Wolski.
Oates said Eric Fehr, who left Sunday’s game against the Rangers in the third period and didn’t return with an upper-body injury, was scheduled to see the team physician Monday afternoon. Oates didn’t go into detail about Fehr’s injury but said it’s not another shoulder problem. Fehr has undergone two surgeries on his right shoulder and one in his left during his NHL career.
“It’s not his shoulder. It’s not,” Oates said. “It’s obviously frustrating. He’s been playing very good hockey for us.”