Washington Capitals goaltender Olaf Kolzig practiced for the first time since injuring his wrist one week ago yesterday, and could return to the lineup Thursday against Florida or Saturday against Philadelphia.
He was cleared by doctors to return to the ice after an examination revealed his sprained wrist had healed sufficiently. Kolzig then joined his teammates midway through their workout at Piney Orchard, and faced shots for nearly an hour.
Despite the layoff, Kolzig looked sharp, and on a few occasions even snagged shots with his injured glove hand.
"It feels as good as it's going to feel," said Kolzig, sporting a tightly wound wrap on the wrist. "There's no pain. Now it's just a matter of tolerating things and shaking the rust off. . . . Everything just depends on how things are going. There's no set timetable. It's up to how the wrist holds up."
Kolzig, who has a 4-2-0 record with a 2.06 goals against average, has stopped 94 percent of opposition shots so far this season. He was hurt as he stopped a shot during practice the morning of the Oct. 28 game in Pittsburgh. He was placed on the injured reserve list the next day.
Kolzig has missed four games, in which the Capitals are 1-3-0.
Kolzig "got some good news today," Washington Coach Bruce Cassidy said. "He's had a week off and it seems the rest has done him some good. I would say on Thursday he would be probable."
Cassidy also said that 25-year-old rookie Sebastien Charpentier would start tonight against the Blue Jackets (5-5-1) in Columbus. Charpentier could solidify his position as frontrunner for the backup job with another strong performance.
Charpentier has battled Craig Billington for the number two job and, although he struggled in the preseason, began the season with the Capitals. Charpentier backed up Kolzig in the season opener but was demoted after that game because the coaches preferred Billington's experience.
But Charpentier played well in Portland and was recalled when Kolzig was hurt -- and he has made the most of his opportunity. He defeated the Lightning, 3-2, last Friday and turned away 43 of 45 shots in a 2-1 loss to the Flyers on Saturday in Philadelphia. His emergence could mean Billington, who has been pulled in two of four starts this season, will be odd man out when Kolzig returns. They won't choose a backup goalie until later this week.
"When Olie is ready, which from the sounds of it is right around the corner, we'll make that decision," Cassidy said.
Kolzig's injury came at a bad time for the Capitals (5-6-1), whose offensive woes -- their 25 goals rank third worst in the Eastern Conference -- prompted Cassidy to again scramble his offensive lines.
"We need to get some offense going," Cassidy said.
So yesterday, the coach put Jaromir Jagr, Robert Lang and Dainius Zubrus together on the top line. Michael Nylander, acquired last week from Chicago in a deal for Chris Simon and Andrei Nikolishin, skated between Andreas Salomonsson and Peter Bondra. Jeff Halpern was reunited with wingers Mike Grier and Steve Konowalchuk -- the group played together the first three games. And Brian Sutherby was put with wingers Kip Miller and Stephen Peat on the fourth line.
"We're just trying to find something that works to get the team going," Halpern said. "We've got some new guys, and sometimes it takes time to find the right combination. Hopefully, it won't take much longer."