ARLINGTON, Va. -- A familiar face took the ice at the Capitals MedStar IcePlex on Wednesday for the first time in 2023.
Sporting a blue, non-contact jersey, Capitals star defenseman John Carlson joined his teammates for Wednesday's practice for the first time since Dec. 23 when he took a puck to the face against the Winnipeg Jets.
"It's great," Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette said regarding Carlson's presence on Wednesday. "[The] first day he's back with the group, obviously in a blue jersey, but it's nice to have him out there. Just a part of the process of getting back."
Following last week's trade deadline, Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said the team doesn't expect Carlson to return to game action until the end of March, at the earliest.
On Wednesday, Laviolette practically echoed MacLellan's comments, calling the return for the Capitals' No. 1 defenseman an "off-in-the-distance thing."
"There's a process that goes with where he's at and what he's gone through, and this is the beginning of the process as far as him joining our team," Laviolette said. "Still off in the distance but nice to have him out there."
Carlson is expected to see a specialist in the coming days, per a team official, to help determine the next steps. The 33-year-old played in 30 of the Capitals’ first 36 games, tallying eight goals and 13 assists. Washington went 19-13-4 over that span.
The Capitals have struggled since Carlson went down, falling down the Eastern Conference standings since the calendar flipped to 2023. Washington currently sits at 68 points, five points back of the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final Wild Card spot.
Laviolette downplayed the idea of Carlson skating on Wednesday being able to provide his team a much-needed lift, emphasizing how much of an impact the defenseman makes when he's actually on the ice for game action.
"It would provide more of a lift if he was in the lineup [Thursday] night because of the amount of minutes he plays and how important he is to the team," Laviolette said. "It's good for him to start working on timing and getting up to game speed and that sort of thing, and eventually there'll be contact back introduced to him but just not at this point. But it's nice to have him out there."
Carlson is far from the only Capitals' blue-liner to have dealt with injuries. Martin Fehervary is not expected to play on Thursday, per Laviolette, with a lower-body injury. Nick Jensen is currently dealing with an upper-body injury, too. Five of the team's top six defensemen from opening night are either injured or no longer with the team.
After Wednesday's skate, the Capitals hope Carlson will be able to return later this month to help the club make one final playoff push. However, the 33-year-old's return to the lineup is still some time away.
"I've had quick conversations, but there's no need to talk about John's re-entry into a game yet," Laviolette said.