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Nate Schmidt nearing return from broken shoulder blade

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
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For two weeks after his shoulder blade cracked and his weekend minor-league conditioning stint turned into an unwelcomed stay, defenseman Nate Schmidt could not move his left arm. At all. Someone else could grab it, lift it, wiggle it around just fine, and Schmidt would not feel pain. He could raise it underwater the hot tub, the buoyancy supporting weight and reducing stress on the affected area. “Then as soon as I’d get out, that’s when the pain would start,” Schmidt said.

Simple tasks, like getting dressed each morning before he rode to the Hershey Bears’ rink with roommate Erik Burgdoerfer, became struggles, because Schmidt couldn’t work the muscles under his own power. He later would say that if the arm dropped at a funny angle, or it tweaked in just the wrong way, it felt like someone had stabbed him.

“My arm was a limp arm, I guess you could say,” Schmidt said Friday via telephone. “It’s…interesting.”

That’s one way to describe the injury that derailed Schmidt’s season, right when it appeared to have rounded a corner. The Capitals shipped Schmidt to Hershey to regain his confidence and play several games after defenseman Jack Hillen replaced him on the third pairing in the NHL. He scored two goals on Saturday, almost notching a hat trick were it not for a tipped puck that turned into an assist. Then, on Sunday, Schmidt got hit retrieving a puck. An MRI revealed no rotator cuff damage, which was positive, but doctors still estimated a six-to-eight-week recovery.

And now, at the six-week point, Schmidt has been skating with the Bears in a non-contact jersey for two and a half weeks, he estimated. The broken shoulder blade is totally healed, he said. And once he regains full strength in the left shoulder, he can play again.

“Now it’s getting a lot better,” Schmidt said. “If I wasn’t back next weekend I’d be incredibly shocked.”

Coach Barry Trotz estimated that Schmidt would likely stay with Hershey through the trade deadline, a timetable Schmidt had not yet heard. The last hiccup, he said, has been opening up and passing to his left, when the shoulder is totally exposed. But he’s lifted weights over the past week and a half. If the trade deadline had already passed and the playoffs were around the bend, Schmidt might have considered rushing back.

“But it still feels a little week,” he said. “There’s no real use to push it when I could take an extra week. It’s going to help me more than if I went back and re-aggravated it again. The actual shoulder blade and everything’s been healed for a week or two weeks now. It’s just getting all the muscles ready.”

So he will remain in Hershey, earning an AHL salary because he got hurt there, living with Burgdoerfer and defenseman Michal Cajkovsky, who filled the empty room when Patrick Wey (concussions) returned home for the rest of the season. He’s kept up with the Capitals on NHL Network and thinks forward Alex Ovechkin “is on fire, which is never a bad thing.” He’s played a lot of Monopoly with his teammates.

“I’d consider myself a top player, but I don’t know how my roommates would feel about that, Schmidt said.

He also asked about the Capitals, how everyone was doing, like injured defenseman Dmitry Orlov (more on him below). Orlov’s recovery from offseason wrist surgery has lurched forward without a discernable end in sight.

“Mine’s a little more definitive,’ Schmidt said. “As soon as my shoulder gets strong, I’m going to play.”

Orlov ‘feeling better’ but still no timetable

The updates on Orlov, by now, have all blurred together. Nine months removed from his surgery, Orlov continues to practice with the Capitals, taking penalty-kill repetitions and engaging in drills with fellow blue-liners, but still has no timetable in mind for returning.

“Feeling better,” he said. “Things better. After California feel a lot better and my shot’s getting better. It’s hard to say. I think pretty close.

“I try to work hard, do my best, see how I feel on the ice, my wrist, but now everything more, but I think I am feel I am not ready for the game yet. Hope it be soon.”

The father’s trip to California helped with what Orlov called “really hard times,” mostly spent battling the emotional strain of sitting for so long, because his father, Vladimir, came along.

“It was good time and swam in the ocean a couple times,” Orlov said. “While boys get ready for the game, I have time to swim a little bit. Just go out with my dad. Ocean was cold, but couple times, felt pretty good after my first time in California. Right away, start feeling better.”

Capitals recall seventh defenseman

Washington summoned defenseman Cameron Schilling from Hershey to serve as its extra defenseman for a weekend back-to-back against the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers. Barring injury, Schilling isn’t expected to play.