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John Erskine still working to regain strength, no timeline for a return

Wednesday marked the first day John Erskine could be activated from long-term injured reserve, but despite reaching that threshold the veteran defenseman still has a ways to go in rebuilding the strength in his surgically-repaired knee.

“It just seems like it’s kind of leveled out and is not going anywhere,” Erskine said after working out for more than an hour Wednesday morning.

“It’s not conditioning, it’s getting the strength up there. My main thing is the explosiveness — to have those first two strides and explode out of the starting blocks,” Erskine added. “It’s something that we’re working on but to do some exercises I’ve got to strengthen the muscles up around the knee and I couldn’t do that all summer. Now I’m starting to try and do it.”

Erskine, 33, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee during the offseason and wasn’t able to train or skate as he normally would in the summer. Even during training camp and exhibition schedule, the veteran defenseman could tell he wasn’t in full game shape.

He was clearly limited in the first four games of the regular season, unable to keep pace with opponents and recover in various on-ice situations. Erskine sat out the next four games before returning to the lineup during Washington’s road trip through Western Canada, but his mobility was still limited in games against Winnipeg, Edmonton and Calgary.

“When I came back, of course I wanted to play but, myself, I felt like I wasn’t ready,” Erskine said. “I played some exhibition games and pretty much just let the coaches decide, but, myself, I could tell I was a couple steps behind with power and just trying to keep up with guys on the rush. Then I aggravated it and now they’re trying to get me some rest. I think I came back too early and it’s frustrating. I’ve just got to wait and see what happens.”

Tonight’s game against the Penguins will mark the 11th Erskine’s missed since being placed on long-term injured reserve in late October. When the Capitals put Erskine on LTIR, Coach Adam Oates acknowledged that the defenseman was playing despite not being completely healthy.

Erskine says he still experiences some pain and swelling in his knee but that’s not his biggest focus. Rather, it’s getting back up to speed, with a stride that doesn’t make him a liability on the ice.

“There’s pain, but I can play with pain. I don’t want to go back out there and be two steps behind and hurt the team,” said Erskine, who in addition to working with Capitals strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish is training with local power-skating guru Wendy Marco once a week. Marco helped revitalize the stride former Capital and current Phoenix Coyote Jeff Halpern and worked with various Capitals during the NHL lockout last year.

“It’s tough to change your stride when I’ve been doing the same thing for 30 years. There’s little tips she’s given me that are going to help out,” Erskine said. “I’m trying to work out there with different skating techniques to help me out with that explosiveness, but I think the main thing is just getting it stronger and getting it back to where it was last year.”