A hectic week leading up to officially joining the Washington Capitals had kept Mike Richards off the ice for the four days before his first practice with the team in New York on Friday. Coach Barry Trotz said that wasn’t a challenging practice, but Richards had “work to do” to get up to speed with the team.

The Capitals didn’t have another morning skate or practice until Tuesday, but Richards couldn’t afford to be away from the ice anymore. On Sunday, he and Trotz privately skated together before Washington’s game against the Ottawa Senators.

“I skated him really hard,” Trotz said. “I was dead, too.”

Richards said he felt significantly better when he skated with the team again on Tuesday morning during an intense hour-long practice. Trotz saw signs of progress, too, but not enough to feel comfortable playing Richards in the team’s next game against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday. Trotz said his goal is for Richards to make his Capitals debut before the all-star break at the end of the month.

“We were sort of chuckling. I said, ‘You wouldn’t have been able to do this practice your first practice with us,'” Trotz said. “He goes, ‘No, I wouldn’t have.’ He’s getting better. He’s had a couple of conditioning skates and he’s getting used to playing with real pros and all that. … If you ask him, he’ll say, “I’m ready tomorrow.’ But I think from a coaching standpoint, you want to make sure that he gets used to all the terminology to how we do things, the meetings, the skates, all those things. Just trying to get him in a situation where he feels really comfortable and then we’ll put him in the game when he’s really comfortable.”

Said Richards: “It’s almost night and day from that first skate in New York to now. I’m starting to get my legs under me, my hands are starting to come back a bit. It’s a work in progress obviously; you’re not going to jump right in mid-season. So it’s a work in progress, but you’re starting to get more comfortable and feeling a lot better out there and it’s starting to feel more like home.”

The Capitals announced the signing of Richards to a one-year deal on Wednesday, and though the intention is for him to start off as the team’s fourth-line center, he hasn’t played in an NHL game since early April. As Trotz explained it, this is like training camp for him, but the rest of the team is at a mid-season pace. Richards said the coaches have been giving him feedback about how he’s been practicing, and he’s been communicating with them about how he’s feeling.

Trotz said the team was open to sending Richards down for a conditioning stint in the American Hockey League, and Richards has said he’s open to that, too, but if or when that’ll happen hasn’t been discussed, Trotz said. The immediate plan is for Richards to spend some time with the coaching staff this week learning the system.

“With new teammates, I’m not going to start running them and they’re not going to start running me, so games are going to be different,” Richards said. “You just have to work hard and get your legs under you before you hop into a game so that when you do get into a game you don’t get caught on the ice or hurt from being tired.”