- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 20, 2013

PITTSBURGH — Mike Green expressed confidence that he’ll return to the Washington Capitals’ lineup Thursday at the Winnipeg Jets, but coach Adam Oates wasn’t as definitive.

“Obviously we need Mike. We’ve got to make sure he is ready,” Oates said Wednesday after the team’s practice at Consol Energy Center. “I know he wants to play, but we’ve gone down this path before. He was ready to play last time and it lasted two days.”

A groin injury sidelined Green for the past 10 games and 13 of 15. If he plays and Brooks Laich remains in the lineup as expected after his day off Wednesday, the Caps will have close to a fully healthy team for another edition of the most important game of the season.

“Both guys are very important players to our team,” Oates said. “Putting Mike back in the lineup, we’re talking about one of the best defensemen in the league when he’s going on all cylinders. Yeah, we want that. And every team wants that.”

It’s uncertain if Green is 100 percent, though he expressed no concern about participating in back-to-back games in Winnipeg and insisted he’s not rushing back.

“This is taking the safe route,” the 27-year-old defenseman said. “At some point you’ve got to make a decision, and [Thursday] I’m ready.”

Laich called himself ready to go as well. He made his season debut in Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins after missing the first 28 games with a groin injury.

Laich did not skate Wednesday, though he said the plan all along was to do off-ice strength exercises instead.

“I didn’t sleep real well [Tuesday] night because I was kind of concerned that maybe it wouldn’t be. But I woke up this morning and actually felt pretty good,” Laich said. “No red flags, no setbacks. Felt pretty good last night and I’m very optimistic right now.”

Oates, more concerned about Laich’s mental fatigue than anything else, said it could take a week to ramp the forward back up to the level he’s used to: 18 to 20 minutes a game with full power-play and penalty-killing responsibilities.

Given the precarious position the Caps are in, seven points out of the final playoff position with 19 games to go, it’s incumbent on the coaching staff and Laich not to push the envelope too much, too soon.

“You’ve got to have a mature outlook on it,” Oates said.

The same goes for Green, frustrated by a bevy of injuries over the past two seasons that have cost him 93 of Washington’s past 193 regular-season games. It seems like he wants to will himself back into game action, but given his recent history of groin injuries, the Caps must be careful with Green.

“We appreciate that,” Oates said. “But it still doesn’t change the fact that we’ve got to have a bigger outlook on things.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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