John Carlson is on his way back to the Capitals’ lineup. The veteran defenseman has shed the non-contact practice jersey he has been skating in for the past few weeks in favor of a regular white sweater.
That change indicates that his return to full-time action is coming soon. Previous reports have said the team and Carlson are targeting their March 23 game against the Chicago Blackhawks for his first game back. That would be exactly three months after he took the slap shot to the head that sidelined him.
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Carlson’s appearance at Monday’s practice in a regular jersey comes almost two weeks after he skated with his teammates for the first time since the December 23 incident. The top-pairing defender is working his way back from a small skull fracture and a severed temporal artery he suffered when Brenden Dillon’s slap shot connected with his head in that game against the Winnipeg Jets.
Carlson met with the media for the first time on Saturday and discussed his impending return.
“I feel really good,” Carlson said. “Rejuvenated. Haven’t had this much time off over the winter in my life probably. Try to take care of myself, get better. Do things that I otherwise wouldn’t do. Get ready for coming back.”
When Carlson does make his return, he’ll be coming back to a team in a much different position than when he left it. Over his 35-game absence, the Caps have played below .500 hockey, with a record of 14-18-3 and almost assuredly will not be making the playoffs this season.
The absence of the team’s go-to guy on the blueline is something that general manager Brian MacLellan has pointed at as a main reason for the team’s drop.
“It’s hard to replace a guy like him,” MacLellan said. “We bumped guys up in the lineup and increased their minutes, which most of them handled well, but it’s still not the same as having John in there playing both the power play and penalty killing. I do think it had a big effect on the results from the end of December on. It contributed to what I would call our inconsistencies.”
Carlson himself is well aware of the environment he is returning to.
“This is a tough time of the year to come back to – what these guys have been dealing with day in and day out,” he said. “Backs against the wall feelings. There’s a lot of that going on in the room right now.
“I’m trying to keep spirits high and do the only thing I can do which is get prepared,” he continued. “It’s tough emotionally to see how hard they’re battling and see how things are going. Every night seems like it’s a must-win. It’s difficult to play a long period of time like that.”
As of right now, Carlson is still on the long-term injured reserve. The Capitals are currently carrying a full complement of players so to activate Carlson, they will need to send someone down to the AHL.
The Caps have one more game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday before hosting the Blackhawks.
Headline photo: Katie Adler/RMNB
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