|Chris Neil is hopeful he can return to action on Saturday night, when the Senators face off against the Washington Capitals. Neil has missed nine games with a sprained ankle (Jana Chytilova/Freestyle/Getty Images).
Chris Neil is so close he can almost taste it.
The rugged Ottawa forward, who's sat out nine games while mending a sprained ankle, shed the no-contact jersey in practice today in Washington, where the Senators are slated to face off against the Capitals on Saturday night at the Verizon Center (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1200).
Whether he'll play Saturday has yet to be determined, but Neil sounded today like a man who's rarin' to go and get back into the mix of things.
"I don't know for sure yet (if I'm playing), but I feel pretty good on the ice," he said following a 50-minute practice session at the Kettler Capitals Iceplex. "The ankle feels pretty good as well. I did some battling drills with Carks (Matt Carkner) and they don't come too much bigger than him out there, so that's a good test for me.
"I'll find out maybe later today or tomorrow if I'm in or not. If I'm not, I'll just get ready for the next game. I'll just keep myself in good shape and try to stay on top of things so that when they do need me, I'll be ready to go."
Senators head coach Paul MacLean is still reserving judgment on whether he'll insert Neil back into the lineup against the Caps, but he liked what he saw today.
"We're getting real close to it," he said of Neil's imminent return. "We're going to see how he got through today. He looks like he got through it real good and we'll make a final determination tomorrow. We're looking forward to getting him back, but we want to make sure we do it at the right time."
Neil expects he'll need a bit of time to shed the rust from his absence.
"Any time you miss a period of games, it's tough to get back into it," he said. "But the way we play definitely helps. We play a structured system and if you pay attention to details and play within the system, you get your first couple of shifts under your belt and go from there."
Senators acquire Klinkhammer to aid B-Sens
Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray made a move to boost the Binghamton Senators today, acquiring forward Rob Klinkhammer from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a conditional seventh-round pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. The pick is based on how many games he plays with the big club.
"We pay if he plays in Ottawa," said Murray. "In turn, we get a chance to see a player who might help our younger guys in Binghamton and contribute to a more successful campaign (there) than we're having at present."
The 25-year-old Klinkhammer, who set career professional highs in goals (17), assists (29) and points (46) last season with the American Hockey League's Rockford IceHogs, will join the B-Sens for a busy weekend of three games in three days that begins tonight in Manchester, N.H., against the Monarchs. Binghamton (7-12-1-1) currently stands fifth in the East Division, five points shy of a playoff position.
Around the boards
The last time the Senators played at the Verizon Center, they dropped a 2-1 decision on Oct. 15 on a night in which Ottawa likely deserved a better fate. "We played great here the last time," said Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson. "We just didn't have the bounces we needed that game. Hopefully, tomorrow we can step up more and play even better." ... Senators defenceman Filip Kuba (upper body) sat out practice today and MacLean said his status remains "day to day" ... Craig Anderson has been tabbed to get the start in goal against the Caps ... Ottawa prospect Jakub Culek is on the Czech Republic's preliminary roster for the 2012 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship, which begins Dec. 26 in Alberta ... The Senators return home to face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday at Scotiabank Place (7:30 p.m., Sportsnet East, Team 1200). Fewer than 1,500 tickets remain.