Mike Green, Sergei Fedorov Near Returns for Capitals

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 12, 2008

A day after first-line winger Alexander Semin and top-pairing defenseman Tom Poti returned from injury and helped the Washington Capitals beat the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins, another star player or possibly two might be close to rejoining the lineup, perhaps as soon as tonight against the Ottawa Senators.

Mike Green, who has been out because of a shoulder injury since being crushed by Anaheim's Chris Pronger 12 games ago, said yesterday he woke up without pain or stiffness for the first time since getting hurt. The defenseman also took a few slap shots in practice without experiencing any discomfort -- a breakthrough in a recovery that has been slower than anticipated.

"It's strong," Green said. "I can shoot and it doesn't hurt, so I have full strength, full rotation. As long as I wake up [today] and it feels the way it felt [yesterday] morning, for sure I'll play."

Although there is no longer concern that a heavy hit could re-injure Green's shoulder, Coach Bruce Boudreau said he's also not going to take any chances with the player the Capitals have missed more than any other during the recent rash of injuries throughout the lineup. The 23-year-old leads the team in time on ice per game (25 minutes 13 seconds) and ranks fourth among all defensemen in goals (seven) despite missing three weeks.

"I don't think it's 100 percent," Boudreau said of his No. 1 defenseman. "But it's the first time he's feeling normal. That's good news. But we're still not sure if we're going to play him [tonight]. Mike told me he was ready to go the day after he got hurt. He couldn't carry his arm, and he said, 'I'm ready to go, Coach.' "

Sergei Fedorov also appears to be on the verge of returning from a sprained ankle that has cost him 16 of the past 17 games. He practiced at full speed yesterday, and though he had his moments of discomfort, the veteran center said afterward he's aiming to play tonight or tomorrow night. Yesterday, he centered the third line with Brooks Laich and Matt Bradley in practice.

"He's getting close," Boudreau said of Fedorov, who has returned from injury once only to return to the sideline. Tonight "is a real possibility."

But even if Green and Fedorov suit up, the Capitals remain far from healthy. In fact, 30 forwards and defensemen have played at least one game for Washington this season, tied with Tampa Bay for most in the league. Wingers Tomas Fleischmann (leg) and Eric Fehr (shoulder) and defenseman John Erskine (concussion) did not practice and aren't expected to play this weekend.

Poti, meantime, was withheld from practice because of the same groin muscle injury that sidelined him for six games, a day after leading all Capitals in ice time in Wednesday's 3-1 victory over the Bruins. Asked if he expects Poti to play tonight, Boudreau said, "I hope so."

Meantime, goaltender Brent Johnson also did not practice after earning the first star with a 33-save performance against Boston. In the first period, Johnson aggravated the hip injury that has nagged him since last month, and because of that, Boudreau said he hasn't decided whether to start Johnson or José Theodore tonight.

"A lot depends on how [Johnson] feels," Boudreau said. "If he's playing really good, you want to run with him. But you also don't want to get him hurt where he misses two weeks again and it takes him a while to get back into it."

Whichever goalie starts, he'll likely oppose an Ottawa team that lost 2-0 to Cristobal Huet and the Blackhawks in Chicago on Wednesday. The Senators rank 28th in the league in goals per game (2.38), but Boudreau said he considers any team with elite scorers Dany Heatley (14 goals), Daniel Alfredsson (25 points) and Jason Spezza (12 goals) to be a threat.

"You know they are going to break out eventually," Boudreau said. "You can't hold Heatley, Alfredsson and Spezza in check all the time. You just don't want [the breakout] to be against you."

© 2008 The Washington Post Company