NASHVILLE – Mikhail Grabovski will return to the Capitals’ lineup Sunday night against the Predators after missing 22 of the last 23 games with a sprained left ankle.
“I’m ready,” Grabovski said after taking part in an optional skate at Bridgestone Arena. “It’s hard to tell if it will be comfortable in a game when it’s just practice but I don’t have any pain in practice.”
The veteran center originally suffered the injury on Jan. 24 at New Jersey when Bryce Salvador fell on him. He re-injured the ankle when he tried to come back on Feb. 27 at Florida, where he skated just 2:20 before leaving the contest.
Given that it’s been more than a month since Grabovski appeared in a game, Coach Adam Oates plans to start him on the fourth line between Dustin Penner and Tom Wilson. Chris Brown will sit out as a healthy scratch.
“Ease him into it slow and see how he is. It’s been a long time now,” Oates said. “We’ll see how he is and how everybody else is. We played yesterday and [Nashville] didn’t, maybe he’s fresh and flying, maybe he gets more minutes because of that. As the game goes along I’ll kind of monitor it.”
Having Grabovski, 30, back in the fold gives the Capitals back their No. 2 center and one of their strong puck movers, so his presence should help with the overall transition game.
>> Jack Hillen, as expected, did not make the trip to Nashville and will miss a second straight game with what the Capitals describe only as an upper-body injury suffered in a collision with Alex Ovechkin on Tuesday.
John Erskine filled out the defensive lineup Saturday vs. the Bruins with Hillen but the Capitals may make another change in Nashville and go with Julien Brouillette, who was recalled from the AHL’s Hershey Bears. Oates said it will be a game-time decision but Erskine did stay out on the ice longer with the expected scratches this morning.
>> While all of the Capitals made the trip to the arena from the team hotel for video sessions Sunday morning, only half the lineup skated. Those who didn’t participate were Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Troy Brouwer, Jason Chimera, Joel Ward, Dustin Penner, Mike Green, John Carlson and Karl Alzner.
>> Jaroslav Halak gets the nod in Nashville for what will be his ninth start as a Capital. He’s 4-2-2 with a .929 save percentage and 2.35 goals against average with Washington. Over the course of his career Halak is 10-3-3 with a 1.71 goals-against and .931 save percentage in 17 appearances against the Predators. Nashville will start Carter Hutton (17-11-4, 2.68 goals-against, .907 save percentage).
>> Here’s the Capitals’ projected lineup: