The morning after he appeared in an AHL game on a conditioning stint, defenseman Jack Hillen was back on the ice with the Washington Capitals for practice but said he’s not quite ready to return to the lineup.
“I’m close, I’m really close,” said Hillen, who hasn’t played since fracturing the tibial plateau in his right leg on Oct. 3 in Washington’s second game of the season.
“I’m trying not to beat myself up over it because I feel like I’m so close, but I know I’m not in the position yet where I can do the things I need to do to be the best hockey player I can be out there,” Hillen said. “I don’t want to hurt myself or the team and put myself in positions where I know I’m not quite there.”
Hillen skated roughly 20 minutes (the AHL doesn’t keep exact time on ice stats) and recorded five shots on goal in Hershey’s 6-5 loss at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Tuesday night. It was more than the 28-year-old defenseman expected to play, but he handled his first game at any level since the injury well, a sign that he’s on the right path.
While Hillen will travel to Florida with the team, he said “I don’t think tomorrow’s realistic” when asked about his chances of facing the Panthers. Coach Adam Oates wouldn’t rule Hillen out, though, stating that perhaps the defenseman will feel better following Thursday’s morning skate than he anticipates.
“He played a hockey game for the first time in a long while so I’d imagine youre pretty achy the next day and he had to travel,” Oates said. “The fact that he practiced, to me, I think feels better than he thinks it does but we’ll see tomorrow.”
Mike Green and Mikhail Grabovski, who missed time before the break with a concussion and sprained left ankle, respectively, are both expected to be back in the lineup. John Erskine, who was a healthy scratch the final two games before the break, will likely be back in the mix as well if Hillen isn’t ready for game action.
Up front, the Capitals recalled left wing Nicolas Deschamps from Hershey and he will make the trip to Florida with the team in case Marcus Johansson isn’t feeling ready to play after extensive travel on Wednesday.
Johansson went to Stockholm after the Olympics wrapped up to resolve some visa and passport problems and is making his way to Florida. While Johansson is expected to meet with the Capitals on Wednesday night, Coach Adam Oates isn’t sure if the forward will be ready for a game after traveling for an entire day and having not skated since the gold medal game on Sunday. Oates called him a “game-time decision” agains the Panthers.
“He’s traveling so far, just in case jet lag kills him and he’s blah — it’s an important game — we need guys that can play,” Oates said. “So if he’s not able to go then I wouldn’t hesitate to put [Deschamps] in.”