Patrick Eaves finally had some company on the ice Monday morning.
It’s been a long time in coming, to say the least.
The 23-year-old Ottawa Senators forward has watched and waited for 21 games since suffering a separated shoulder back on Nov. 21 against the Buffalo Sabres. And while he won’t quite be ready to suit up against the same Sabres team Thursday night at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., A-Channel, Team 1200), Eaves’ appearance at practice Monday was a good indicator that his return to the lineup is imminent.
“I was just happy to be out there with some other guys,” a smiling Eaves said after a brisk one-hour workout – his first full practice with his Senators teammates since suffering the shoulder injury. “You can only do so much (skating) by yourself … I was excited to be out there.”
Senators head coach John Paddock was impressed by what he saw out of Eaves, but wouldn’t put a timetable on his return date just yet.
“I was surprised at how well (Eaves) was shooting the puck,” said Paddock. “I don’t know what his status is coming up, but it was a good sign seeing the way he practised and shot the puck.”
Eaves said the real test will come in the next few days, when he starts engaging in contact during on-ice sessions with the rest of the team.
“My conditioning is great,” he said. “Randy (Lee, the team’s strength and conditioning coach) have been skating for weeks now. That’s not the problem at all.
“It’s just letting it finish up healing. I’ll probably start contact sometime this week and we’ll go from there. When I’m bumping and grinding, we’ll see how it feels.”
There was a bit of a buzz toward the end of Monday’s practice, when goaltender Ray Emery and Senators enforcer Brian McGrattan had a disagreement and began throwing punches in a spirited scrap. But their teammates brushed it off as a minor family feud of sorts, and Paddock called the entire incident “inconsequential.”
“I don’t really have a thought, a feeling, a comment … anything,” he said. “I have nothing to ask them about it at all. I don’t really care. It’s a big issue to (the media) but it’s nothing to us.”
Meanwhile, with a busy weekend of three home games in four days ahead, Paddock has decided to give a number of the team’s veterans Tuesday off to recharge the batteries – it’s been officially declared an optional skate. Starting Thursday, the Senators have no more than a day off between games until the Jan. 25-27 NHL all-star break. Then the schedule picks up in a major way again after that.
“It’s just the right time (for some rest),” said Paddock. “There are players, especially the ones who play 18-24 minutes a game – which is about seven or eight guys – who need an extra day (off).”
About 250 tickets remain for Thursday’s game against the Sabres, while only 20 are left for Saturday’s much-anticipated showdown between the Senators and Western Conference-leading Detroit Red Wings (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200). Just 500 tickets are available for Sunday’s home contest with the New York Islanders (7 p.m., Rogers Sportsnet, Team 1200).