The Capitals have used 13 defensemen this season, which is probably about five more than they’d prefer.
Injuries have sidelined Mike Green [eight games], John Erskine [28 games] and Jack Hillen [57 games], while uneven play has meant a rotating door for Steve Oleksy [33 games], Nate Schmidt [29 games], Connor Carrick [20 games] and Tyson Strachan [12 games].
With that in mind, Capitals general manager George McPhee was asked if the Caps will try to fortify their blue line before the March 5 NHL trade deadline.
“If there’s an opportunity to upgrade then we do it if it makes sense,” McPhee said. “But I think we’re sitting pretty good with what we have right now.”
McPhee said he’s been happy with the “solid” play of Karl Alzner, John Carlson and Green and believes Dmitry Orlov has made the most of his opportunity to become the Caps’ No. 4 defenseman.
“Orlov is a guy we said we would give an opportunity,” McPhee said. “He’s had the opportunity and has been playing really well. … I think we’re getting to the point where we wanted to be at the start of the season with the way they’re lined up and the way they can play.”
McPhee said Hillen’s broken leg in the second game of the season was “a big loss for us” and is hoping Hillen will be able to return to the Caps for their final 23 games of the regular season.
Hillen’s not so sure.
After skating with his brother’s high school team in Minnesota and pushing himself through early-morning 3-on-3 games with no subs, Hillen said he’s not quite ready to play on an everyday basis for the Capitals.
“Right now I’m just trying to manage the recovery aspect,” Hillen said. “There’s still some work to be done before I can get back. I need to make sure I can play back-to-back games or three games in four days.”
Hillen said he needs to spend Tuesday and Wednesday battling teammates in front of the net and in the corners before he can give his coaches an honest assessment of how close he is to returning.
“If we had to play a game tomorrow I don’t think I’d be ready,” he said, “but another week and we’ll see. My goal is to come back and play right after the break, but I’m going to be honest with the trainers and the coaches, and if I can’t go and I can’t recover, I’m going to be honest with them.
“I don’t want to hurt the team. My goal is to be there, but right now I’m not.”
Although it seems unlikely Hillen will be ready to play for the Capitals when they resume play Thursday night in Sunrise, Fla., against the Panthers, he said he’s happy with his progress, especially since he was told by doctors in October he may never play again at the professional level.
“When [a doctor] tells you that, you listen,” Hillen said. “He told me to stay off of it for three months. I stayed off for nine weeks and he said, ‘You know what? I think your bone is solid, the X-rays look really good and you can start walking.’
“I listened to him the whole way. He got my attention and I listened to his advice. I hope I can contribute at some point down the stretch.”