On a day when defensemen John Erskine and Tom Poti did not practice because of upper body injuries, Mike Green and Brooks Laich provided a light at the end of the tunnel.
Green, who has been sidelined for eight of the Capitals’ last 10 games with a groin strain, said he feels “100 percent” and is targeting next week for his return to the lineup.
Laich, who has missed the first 24 games of the season with a groin injury, skated for the first time since Feb 16 and was encouraged by his progress, although he would not put a timetable on his return.
“I was either gonna to come off and be in a good mood or it was gonna be a tornado,” Laich said, a smile emerging from the corners of his mouth.
“But I felt really good, I wasn’t hesitant. The strength felt pretty good. … To get back out with the team felt pretty good.”
Green missed three straight games with a groin injury in mid-February, returned for back-to-back games against Carolina and Philadelphia, then sat out the next five games.
“Practice is really different from the game,” Green acknowledged. “The game is so much faster and quicker and you’re getting hit. It just wasn’t ready. It fired up on me again and the good thing is now it’s not doing that and I can’t wait to get back.
“It’s 100 percent,” he said. “I think next week I’ll be ready to go.”
With Erskine, Poti and Green on the shelf the Capitals recalled Cameron Schilling from the Hershey Bears and will give him his NHL debut tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes, who are eight points ahead of the Caps in the Southeast standings.
In fact, all six of the defensemen who will play for the Capitals tonight have played for the Bears in their careers, three of them this season.
“Pre-game jitters are human nature,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said of Schilling’s NHL debut. “This is the NHL. You try to get through a couple shifts playing very simple. Get a sweat going and let it happen.”
Asked to recall his own NHL debut for the Red Wings in Detroit back in 1985, Oates smiled.
“I was dying,” he said. “It took me a period and a half to score, and then I didn’t get one for 30 games. I thought, ‘This game’s easy.’ Thirty games later I was in the minors.”
In other lineup news, Marcus Johansson will begin tonight’s game on a top line with center Mike Ribeiro and right wing Alex Ovechkin after a strong performance against the Rangers on Sunday.
“I really saw some energy and skating and being a bit of a hound on the puck and making good decisions,” Oates said.
Oates again alluded to the training camp collision between Johansson and Alex Ovechkin as a reason for Johansson’s uneven play at the start of the season.
“You know, maybe that hit in training camp did hurt him where he was trying to fight through it and didn’t have the pace I saw the other night. I really thought that was solid.”
Oates said he appreciates Johansson’s toughness but would rather see his players take themselves out of the lineup than play with a head injury.
“It’s a lesson for him that you’ve got to be honest with the trainer because you are getting judged,” he said. “You get judged by me, you get judged by [the media], everybody. So we’ve got to be smart about it. I appreciate him trying to fight through it, no question, but I’m more encouraged by the way he played the other night. That’s great, we need that for the second half.”
With Johansson on the top line, this is how the Caps’ lineup is expected to look tonight
Marcus Johansson-Mike Ribeiro-Alex Ovechkin
Eric Fehr-Nicklas Backstrom-Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera-Matt Hendricks-Joel Ward
Wojtek Wolski-Jay Beagle-Mathieu Perreault
Karl Alzner-Tomas Kundratek
Jeff Schultz-John Carlson
Cameron Schilling-Steve Oleksy
Braden Holtby [starting]-Michal Neuvirth
Healthy scratches: Joey Crabb, Aaron Volpatti