(Bruce Bennett/Getty)

NEWARK – Jack Hillen probably wouldn’t have traveled with the Washington Capitals this weekend if it weren’t for the dads’ trip but he was grateful to make the journey to New Jersey and on to Montreal so he could skate with his teammates for the first time since October.

As encouraging as it is to see Hillen, who suffered a fractured tibial plateau on Oct. 3 when he was checked by Calgary’s Lance Bouma, back on the ice, the defenseman cautioned that he is still in the midst of a long and unpredictable recovery process.

“The X-rays look good, we’ve taken extra scans and everything is going pretty well. It’s just tough to put a timeline on this type of injury,” said Hillen, who doesn’t know when he will be able to play again but believes a return before the end of the season remains a realistic and attainable goal.

“I’ve got to keep working, keep skating. Every single time I skate I feel like I make improvements somewhere, which is a good thing,” Hillen said. “I’m happy with where I’m at, but I have pain every time I skate.”

Hillen, 28, underwent surgery in October to have a stabilizing plate and five screws inserted in his leg. He then spent nine weeks on crutches.

Once he was allowed to walk Hillen conferred with Greg Smith, the Capitals’ head athletic trainer, and they agreed that a modest skating regimen with gradual increase in workload and time would be the best course of action rather than waiting for the defenseman to rebuild his strength completely off the ice first.  He’s only been skating since the second week of January and the progress is gradual.

“I thought like I’d be boom, start walking and feeling great and that’s really not the case,” Hillen said. “The first week [of skating] I went out for five or 10 minutes and didn’t even stride. I would just coast.”

In between skates and workouts, Hillen has become a stickler for detail in all the training and maintenance procedures players can take for granted when they’re healthy. Every time he hits the ice, he makes sure to go through the same post-workout routine of riding the stationary bike, stretching and icing his knee to help minimize swelling and additional pain.

“I feel good about my skating. I feel like I will get it back to where I was but having said that whenever I get off the ice it’s a lot stiffer than it used to be. Getting the range of motion and the flexibility back – I’m still working on getting 100 percent flexibility and 100 percent strength,” Hillen said. “I’ve got to take small steps and keep working on it. It’s not always going to be getting better all the time, it’s going to be like the stock market where it goes up most of the time but some days will be worse than others.”