As Jay Beagle stepped onto the ice Saturday morning, enthusiastic stick taps and cheers greeted him. He broke into a wide smile, happy to be back at practice with his Capitals teammates for the first time since undergoing hand surgery on Jan. 2.
Beagle said his left hand is healed, though he’s still not able to close it. But his right hand is the dominant one on faceoffs, so once his timing returns, so should his prowess on draws. He said he started skating four or five days after the surgery, so getting his legs back won’t be an issue.
“It’s just a matter of getting the strength back and feeling 100 percent,” Beagle said. “I feel really good out there, so I’m hopeful to be back after the week probably. I’m hoping. You never know what’s going to happen, but that’s my goal.”
Beagle was the team’s third-line center when he hurt his hand on Dec. 28, but since then, Marcus Johansson has taken command of that role and the team added Mike Richards as a fourth-line center. Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said Beagle would likely be on the fourth line when he returns to the lineup, and Beagle can play wing or center. He has six goals and six assists in 36 games played.
“The team is rolling good,” Beagle said. “JoJo, [Tom Wilson] and [Jason Chimera], they play unbelievable together. JoJo brings such an offensive presence to that line and he’s great with the puck. When I come in, I just want to come in and make the team stronger wherever I am. I just want to come in, and it doesn’t matter where Barry puts me. I want to be a part of the team, and I want to be a part of what we have going on. It’s hard to sit on the sidelines.”
Beagle said he’s been using a stick in his workouts for a week. He had been wearing a brace, but Friday was the first day he took shots without a brace. When Beagle does got back in the lineup, the Capitals will be fully healthy for the first time since early November.
“He’s one of those guys that just brings a lot of energy to the locker room, to the game, to the ice, to practice,” defenseman John Carlson said. “He’s just a high-character guy that gives his all, and everybody loves him. It’s good to see him back, getting closer and closer.”
Here is Washington’s expected lineup against the New Jersey Devils:
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Justin Williams
Andre Burakovsky-Nicklas Backstrom-T.J. Oshie
Jason Chimera-Marcus Johansson-Tom Wilson
Brooks Laich-Mike Richards-Michael Latta
Nate Schmidt-John Carlson
Karl Alzner-Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik-Dmitry Orlov
Braden Holtby (starter)
Jay Beagle (hand)