NEW YORK - With Marcus Johansson facing a 5 p.m. phone hearing today with the NHL Department of Player Safety for his illegal check to the head of Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey on Thursday night, the Caps are considering two different replacements at center.
Mike Richards is not one of them.
Richards remained on the Madison Square Garden ice about 15 minutes longer than the rest of his teammates in his first practice with the Capitals on Friday and likely will not make his Capitals debut until he’s had at least three or four high-paced practices with the Capitals.
That means if Johansson is suspended, the Caps will recall a center from the AHL Hershey Bears. Caps coach Barry Trotz said Paul Carey and Chris Bourque are the leading candidates.
“He has some work to do,” Trotz said of Richards, who signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Capitals on Wednesday. “You can tell he hasn’t been playing for eight months. He’s got some hands and you saw on the PK (penalty kill) he’s got really good sense. It’ll just be getting him up to speed to the pace and the conditioning and all that, which is normal for someone who hasn’t played for eight months.
“I don’t think it would be fair to any player coming into this situation to throw him into a game. I think he needs a little bit of time. When we feel he’s ready we’ll throw him in.”
After their weekend games against the Rangers on Saturday and Ottawa Senators on Sunday, the Caps have three days between games and Trotz said he’d like to see how Richards looks after those practices before deciding if he can step into an NHL game or needs to play a few games with AHL Hershey before playing for the Caps.
The Caps are permitted to give Richards a two-week conditioning stint in Hershey if they feel it’s necessary.
Richards had not skated since Monday and said that although he’s not yet up to game speed, it was nice to get back on the ice with his new teammates. During Richards’ interview with reporters, Alex Ovcechkin playfully put his cell phone in Richards’ face as if to record his answers.
“I’ve got to learn my Russian,” Richards quipped.
“It’s been overwhelming how good everyone has been in welcoming me,” he said. “Just everything, to be honest, from a hundred texts from everyone welcoming me back in the league. Everyone’s been unbelievable to be honest. I just want to relax and be one of the guys.”
Injury update: Caps defenseman John Carlson joined the Caps midway through practice and Trotz said he’s day-to-day, although it seems unlikely Carlson will play before Jan. 14 at home against the Canucks. Meanwhile, defenseman Brooks Orpik’s recovery is moving in the right direction and he could be on the ice as early as Monday.