They huddled, pounded their sticks on the ice and cheered for several seconds. For the first time since Dec. 7, defenseman Brooks Orpik had joined his Washington Capitals teammates for a practice, a significant step in his recovery from an unspecified lower-body injury.

Orpik hasn’t played since Nov. 10, and at the time, Coach Barry Trotz’s said Orpik’s injury was “not serious.” Orpik said he thought after the initial diagnosis and some rest, he’d be able to “play through it,” so he returned to team practices on Nov. 30. But during a practice on Dec. 7, Orpik left the ice early, visibly frustrated. He had more examinations and consultations and then opted to stop skating for about five weeks.

He’s been working out with strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish before practices for about three weeks, pinpointing Tuesday as the day he’d rejoin the team.

“I kind of had to take a step back and get a different look at it and take a different approach,” Orpik said. “It wasn’t healing when you’re trying to play through it. Only thing that was going to make it heal was to rest. You’re a lot smarter looking back on things in hindsight, but you don’t like missing games so you just try to play through things.

“It’s probably a good lesson for a lot of guys; it’s not the smartest thing sometimes. … If I kept skating on it, the bone was never going to heal. That’s where we’re at. They told me I had to stay off it for eight weeks, so that was a long eight weeks.”

Orpik said it’s hard to know for sure if the injured bone is completely healed now, but “it feels like it.” He said it would be pointless to do “another picture because it’ll show up for a while. It’s more just off your symptoms.” Orpik said he was resolved not to rush the recovery after the setback on Dec. 7, and seeing the team continue to succeed without him took even more pressure off him.

Orpik said he doesn’t know how far away from playing he is, calling it a physical “shock” to go so long without skating. He said he can’t expect to be fully prepared for games just from practices, so “you’ve got to jump in there eventually and get your feet wet.” Trotz said there’s no timeline for his return to the lineup.

When that happens, the Capitals will be in a salary cap crunch, as he’s currently on long-term injured reserve, meaning his $5.5 million cap hit is off the books. According to, Washington has around $5.4 million in available cap space, but they aren’t using any of the cap space created by having him on long-term injured reserve, so he could be activated without any roster moves being made.

“Obviously, I haven’t played a game in a while, so I have to get some good practices in,” Orpik said. “I couldn’t do much conditioning, lower body-wise, so that’ll take a little bit to come. Just tried to stay in as good as shape as I could, being as limited as I was. Hopefully, I’m ahead of the curve a little bit, but obviously, it’s still going to take a little bit to get things back going where they should be.”