Thirty minutes before the Washington Capitals’ scheduled practice Monday, center Evgeny Kuznetsov stepped onto the ice and started skating in circles. It was an encouraging sight for the team after Kuznetsov hobbled off the ice late in the second period Friday night against the New York Islanders with an undisclosed upper-body injury.
Kuznetsov didn’t join the team for practice Monday, instead skating on his own with strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish, and Coach Barry Trotz said after practice it is doubtful he’ll return to the lineup Tuesday night against the Dallas Stars in Capital One Arena. But that Kuznetsov was back on the ice signals he’s making progress in his recovery. He skated in full gear, but he avoided significant shooting or puck-handling, not unexpected for an upper-body injury. Trotz had said Sunday that he “for sure” expects Kuznetsov back by the playoffs, which begin April 11.
Kuznetsov is the Capitals’ second-leading scorer with 21 goals and 50 assists. He seemed to injure his left arm late in the second period of Friday night’s game against the Islanders after getting slashed by defenseman Thomas Hickey and then colliding awkwardly with the end boards. He played in every game in the past two seasons, and the two games he missed during his rookie season (2014-15) weren’t because of injury. Washington is expected to take a cautious approach with his health, especially with the team in first place in the Metropolitan Division.
Trotz said the center’s absence was noticeable in Washington’s loss at Philadelphia on Sunday.
“I thought just a lot of the offensive stuff where Kuzy can do stuff on his own — he can break down coverages, he forces people to duplicate — that was missing a little bit in our game yesterday,” Trotz said.
Defenseman Brooks Orpik, who missed Sunday’s game with a lower-body injury, didn’t practice Monday and also is doubtful to play Tuesday, said Trotz, who noted Orpik “might be a little closer” to returning than Kuznetsov. Orpik did not skate during Monday’s practice but is expected to be on the ice Tuesday.
Orpik had traveled with the team to Philadelphia but then told Trotz that he didn’t feel he could play against the Flyers. Without both Orpik and Kuznetsov, the Capitals lost, 6-3.
Here’s how Washington’s lineup looked in practice Monday:
Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Tom Wilson
Andre Burakovsky-Lars Eller-T.J. Oshie
Jakub Vrana-Travis Boyd-Brett Connolly
Chandler Stephenson-Jay Beagle-Devante Smith-Pelly
Extra: Alex Chiasson
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Christian Djoos-John Carlson
Michal Kempny-Jakub Jerabek
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