Washington Capitals forward T.J. Oshie stepped onto the ice at the team’s practice facility Monday in a familiar red practice jersey that signaled he had been cleared for contact. As he skated with his teammates for the first time since suffering a concussion on Nov. 14, the 11-year NHL veteran had a recurring thought: The ice was too crowded.
Oshie had been getting used to skating by himself, embracing the empty sheet as he went through cone drills, trying to gain clearance to play in his first game in just under a month.
“[I] felt pretty good out there,” Oshie said after Monday’s practice. “At times felt like there was too many men on the ice, not enough space compared to when it’s just me by myself out there, but felt pretty good.”
Oshie said he is “hoping” to play Tuesday against the Detroit Red Wings after going through Monday’s full practice. Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said there is a “possibility” Oshie plays against Detroit after missing 11 games, but the plan was for him to go through practice Monday and then see how he did in the afternoon.
The team will reevaluate Oshie’s playing status Tuesday morning.
“Today was a full one,” Oshie said. “I passed all the tests I got to pass. I was in a red jersey, not a baby blue today or a soft blue as I like to call it. I’m hoping to [play]. I got a good relationship with [head athletic trainer Jason Serbus] back there. . . . I put my trust in him and see what he says and go from there.”
The Capitals have gone 9-2 without Oshie, as well as several other injured players. Defenseman Brooks Orpik, who had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee Nov. 20, is still recovering and was not at Monday’s practice. Reirden said there is no timetable for Orpik’s return.
Capitals forward Tom Wilson also has missed the past two games because of his own concussion suffered against Vegas last Tuesday. Wilson was not at Monday’s practice, but Reirden said he participated in an off-ice workout and is hoping he skates this week. Before getting hurt, Wilson had eight goals and six assists in 11 games.
Forward Andre Burakovsky had skated in Wilson’s top-line right wing spot Saturday night against Columbus, but Oshie was taking line rushes as the top right wing alongside captain Alex Ovechkin and center Nicklas Backstrom on Monday.
Oshie also was practicing Monday with the first-team power-play unit, which has struggled in his absence.
“He’s a special player in all aspects of the game, but certainly on the power play for us and in that diamond spot he does a really good job on the entries in terms of controlled entries,” Reirden said. “When we do have to dump pucks in, he is good at recoveries. His work ethic and instincts to be able to win puck battles, I just think it increases our whole intensity of how our power play recovers pucks.”
While it is seemingly likely that Oshie plays Tuesday, he is recovering from the fifth reported concussion of his career. Before getting hurt, Oshie had scored nine goals with five assists in 18 games.
“It’s frustrating,” Oshie said of the concussions. “Feel like each time it gets more and more frustrating. But no, I stuck with it. Had some good workouts and skates. . . . Brooks was here all week so I had some company, but you know I had a lot of support from the guys behind me, supporting me, texting me, seeing how I am doing. Those kind of things kind of get you through, and plus the holidays from family in town, spending time with the girls at home, with my wife, it was a good little break.”
Last year, Oshie missed six games because of a concussion. He was injured against San Jose on Dec. 4, 2017, after San Jose’s Joe Thornton crunched Oshie’s head against the glass with his backside. Oshie struggled to return from that concussion, his fourth, but said he learned from those lessons last year. He said the hardest part is just trying to get his game back to where it was before the head injury.
“It’s my fifth time around so, you know, you expect the game to feel a little fast when you get back,” Oshie said. “You expect your game shape to not be there, the reads, the maximal effort you get in battles in backchecking situations or even forechecking situations. It is just hard to simulate that when you are out there skating around cones and stuff.”
As far as his long-term health, or even imminent health, Oshie said he isn’t scared of the possibilities.
“I feel like when I go out there, if I get concerned with what is going to happen to me, I am not going to play at the top of my game, so it doesn’t really concern me,” Oshie said. “I just kind of roll with the punches every day and, you know, if it does, it does. Hopefully it doesn’t.”
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