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John Erskine nearing return to Capitals’ lineup

(Adam Hunter/Reuters)

John Erskine hopes he’s nearing the end of what has been a long process to strengthen his surgically repaired knee and will be able to return to the Capitals lineup sooner rather than later.

“I’m hoping next week or so. Every day is getting better so I’m going to go from there,” Erskine said. “I’m kind of getting sick of doing the same old working out, skating [routine]. I want to get traveling with the team and start playing games so I can help contribute.”

Erskine will travel with the team to Florida Thursday afternoon, and it’s possible he could suit up against the Panthers or Sunday at home against Philadelphia.

“He looks like he’s moving better to me. He looks more like last year to me, hopefully that continues to grow and he gets stronger,” Coach Adam Oates said. “Good for him and good for us. He’s got to be able to skate, you can’t hide, you can’t not gap up you’ve got to be able to play 200 feet.”

Whenever Erskine is ready to get back in the lineup, if Oates sticks with his preference for left-right balance on defensive pairings, one would imagine either Nate Schmidt or Dmitry Orlov would be the odd player out. The Capitals have one spot open on the 23-man active roster, but according to they do not have the space under the salary cap to accommodate Erskine ($1,962,500 cap hit) and would need to make a move in order to activate the defenseman off LTIR.

“We’ve got to make decisions, they’re never easy,” Oates said. “Obviously he’s an important part of our team, so we’ve got to get him in there.”

Erskine, 33, underwent arthroscopic surgery on his knee in the offseason and clearly labored through the first four games of the season. When he tried to return to the lineup in late October but continued to struggle, it became clear to the veteran defenseman that he needed time to fully regain his strength.

He was placed on long-term injured reserve retroactive to Oct. 26 and has missed all 20 games since, but Erskine has been skating with the team and taking part in full practices for the last two weeks. Erskine has seen his recovery progress during that time, following a point in mid-November where it had plateaued, and is encouraged by the strength he’s gained.

“I still get pain but I feel like I’m getting the muscle around it to give it that stability,” Erskine said. “So when I’m doing little tiny jumps or explosive things I feel like I’ve got a little more power now, before just nothing was there.”

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