Back on Oct. 30, when the Capitals placed defenseman John Erskine on long-term injury reserve, they were hoping that with the proper strength and rehab therapy, the burly blue liner would be able to return to action Nov. 20 against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
With that game now just four days away, it appears Erskine is farther away from returning to the lineup than he hoped.
“How’s it coming along?” he asked in response to the same question. “Slowly.”
Erskine, 33, underwent arthroscopic knee surgery over the summer and said the damage to his knee was more extensive than originally thought. He began skating just before training camp and hoped that by playing he would work himself into game shape.
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Erskine labored through the first four games of the season, took the next four games off, then tried playing again for three straight games from Oct. 22-26.
That’s when he and the Capitals decided it was time for him to take a step back.
“I was a step or two behind,” Erskine said. “I’m missing that explosiveness. I pretty much couldn’t do any leg [strengthening] over the summer and that’s where you get all your explosive power from.
“It’s that, and right now, it’s pain. If I do too much, some days it hurts. Some days it doesn’t. It’s one of those things that needs time to heal and rehab and strengthen it up.”
Erskine said he has worked on power skating and altering his skating stride that take some of the pressure off his knees. But he said the work he’s put in has been interrupted by pain and swelling.
“I’ll go out there and feel great and then I’ll do too much and then one day it swells up and I have to back off and start over,” he said. “The last couple days have been pretty decent.”
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With Erskine sidelined, the Caps have gotten extended looks at left-handed rookies Nate Schmidt, who is averaging just under 19 minutes a game, and Alex Urbom, who is logging just over 15 minutes.
“They weren’t penciled in in the beginning and they’ve done a great job,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said. “They’re learning every day and handling minutes. The faster they learn, the better for us.”
As for when Erskine will be cleared to return to the lineup, he said he’s not setting a date, although he’s still setting Wednesday as an artificial goal.
“I hope I’m back by then but I’m just playing it day by day,” he said. “I’ve only had three weeks off so it’s not going to feel like it’s night and day, where I come back and it’s 100 percent. I’ve got to try my best to get it taken care of.”