Jack Hillen will play in his second game in as many days when the Capitals host the Buffalo Sabres tonight at Verizon Center [7p.m., CSN].
Hillen returned to the Washington lineup yesterday after missing 25 games with an upper-body injury and skated 14:48 in the Capitals’ 4-1 loss to the Boston Bruins.
“I thought yesterday went pretty well as far as getting back into it,” Hillen said after an optional morning skate at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
“I obviously wish we would’ve won but as far as getting my timing back and stuff, it’s been almost a year since I really played a game, so I felt that all things considered that it was a good first step.”
The Capitals signed Hillen to a one-year deal last July, but the 27-year-old suffered an upper-body injury in the first period of Washington’s Opening Night loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning and had not played since.
“My legs felt fine,” Hillen said of his return. “It was just about timing and getting your gap control and little things that you don’t get in practice. It’s impossible to get some of those timing things in practice; you just have to get them in games. So I felt like it was a good first step towards getting some of that timing back.”
Hillen played primarily with Tom Poti as the Caps’ third defensive pairing and finished with a shot on goal, a blocked shot and a minus-1 rating.
He admits that it will take a few more games before his timing is back to 100 percent, but such is the reality for the mobile defenseman who has played just seven NHL games total in the last calendar year.
The former Nashville Predators defenseman was a victim of the numbers game in Music City late last season when he was a healthy scratch for all but two of Nashville’s ten Stanley Cup Playoffs games.
He also did not play overseas during the NHL lockout, instead skating and working out in his native Minnesota.
“[Strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish] got me in really good shape so I thought my legs were fine. It’s just more about the timing. I hadn’t played in a year so that’s going to come with a few games so hopefully tonight is even better than it was yesterday.”
The same six defensemen that dressed yesterday in Boston are expected to play for the Capitals in tonight’s game against Buffalo.
John Erskine is eligible to come off IR today after missing the last four games with an upper-body injury, but Erskine did not take part in the team’s optional skate this morning.
Tomas Kundratek missed yesterday’s game in Boston with a lower-body injury suffered in Thursday’s 3-2 win in Carolina, and the 23-year-old skated for less than ten minutes this morning.
The only lineup changes expected from the Capitals include the return of forward Mathieu Perreault, who was a healthy scratch in each of the last two games and for three-of-four overall. Perreault will take Aaron Volpatti’s spot among the forwards.
Braden Holtby will start in goal after serving as Michal Neuvirth’s backup the last two games.