- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2004

In a season full of disappointment, the Washington Capitals will take good news wherever they can find it. Sebastien Charpentier and Brian Willsie provided some yesterday when both practiced for a second consecutive day.

After being out three months with an arthritic right hip, it was unclear whether Charpentier would play again. So just being on the ice the day after his return to practice was a triumph for the backup goalie. Left wing Willsie, out nearly seven weeks with a concussion, is further along and could play as soon as Sunday in Chicago.

“When you’re out so long and you don’t see improvement, you wonder if you’ll ever be able to play again,” said Charpentier, who had hip surgery Jan.5 after the medications he had been taking lost their effectiveness. “I was on crutches for a week. As soon as I got off them, I started rehabbing, but I didn’t really know what to expect. So I was pretty excited to get out there yesterday. I was a little sore today, but I felt good enough to go on the ice. If I need to take a step down to [Portland of the American Hockey League] to get back here and play, that’s not bad news.”

The 26-year-old Charpentier likely won’t play for Washington any time soon, but coach Glen Hanlon is thrilled he’s back on skates.

“I know how much Charpy loves hockey,” said Hanlon, his coach for three years in Portland. “He’ll do anything to play. We’re trying to establish a criteria of what a Washington Capital is, and Charpy’s at the top of the class as far as wanting to play, loving hockey, being a good teammate, being unselfish and working hard.”

Hanlon figures Charpentier needs at least two weeks to get back into game shape, so rookie Maxime Oullet was recalled from Portland after practice to back up Olie Kolzig. Ouellet (2-2-1, 2.68 with the Caps) got the call in part because Rastislav Stana (1-2, 3.13) strained a shoulder in the AHL All-Star Game over the weekend and is day-to-day. Both rookies have gained ground on Charpentier in the organization’s pecking order. All three are waiting to see whether Kolzig is dealt before the March9 NHL trade deadline.

The 25-year-old Willsie, who was hurt by a check from Toronto’s Bryan Marchment on Dec.19, 11 weeks after being claimed from Colorado in the waiver draft, is waiting for the go-ahead from Washington’s medical personnel to resume contact.

“It’s a good feeling just to get back out there,” said Willsie, who had twice resumed off-ice workouts only to feel too ill the next day to continue. “You get pretty frustrated sitting and watching. It’s a tough injury. I had headaches most of the time for about a month. I’ve been riding the bike for 10 days symptom-free, and my wind feels pretty good, but I probably need some more practices before I get back in a game.”

Hanlon is targeting Sunday as the day he will reunite Willsie with Bates Battaglia and probably Trent Whitfield on a checking line. Willsie had three points and a plus-1 defensive rating as the Caps went 2-1-2 in the five games before he left the lineup.

“Brian is off and running,” Hanlon said. “We gave them a real good skate yesterday, and he was fine today. We’re just waiting for him to get in shape. He and Bates seem to have a real good chemistry. We anticipate they’ll pick up right where they left off.”

Notes — Sergei Gonchar, the NHL’s top-scoring defenseman despite being out since Jan.23 with a separated left shoulder, is expected to return to the lineup tomorrow at Carolina. … Center Michael Nylander, out all season with a broken leg, is making so much progress Hanlon hopes he will be able to play as soon as Feb.19 against New Jersey. … After talking to more experienced coaches Dave Lewis of Detroit and Marc Crawford of Vancouver about handling players coming off All-Star Games, Hanlon gave Robert Lang a second straight day off, but the center did off-ice work.

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