WASHINGTON — Veteran defenceman Ron Hainsey comes back into the lineup tonight for the Winnipeg Jets, who meet the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center (6 p.m. CT, TSN Jets, 1290).
The 30-year-old blueliner has been out of action since taking a knock on the head in the team’s fourth game of the season.
He has missed 16 games, an unusual hiatus for a player who has been a veritable workhorse on the back end.
In the five seasons prior to this one, Hainsey missed just nine games total.
"You forget how frustrating it is not being able to do the day-to-day things, and you’ve got to get there early," Hainsey told reporters this morning at Verizon Center, where the Jets begin a three-game road trip. "It sucks for loss of a better term.
"I’m very, very excited to be able to get back now."
While his head was clearing after the Oct. 17 hit, Hainsey encountered a secondary lower-body issue or injury that slowed his return.
"We ran into another issue when I was coming back and it slowed things down but the good news was that it gave the upper-body a bit more time to recuperate," he said.
The veteran believes it won’t take him long to get back to an NHL pace.
"You feel it in practice," he said. "I haven’t really practised against these guys for four weeks until late last week and you can tell you’re a step slow. I’m sure the game will be a step faster than that; it always is.
"Maybe it’ll take a period, a half-period , to get up to that speed because you just can’t simulate it until you get to a game situation."
Jets coach Claude Noel will likely sit down either Arturs Kulda or Mark Flood due to Hainsey’s return. Both have been steady assets since their recalls from St. John’s of the AHL.
Noel said that Hainsey’s experience opens a lot of doors for the Jets.
"Experience is one thing," the coach said. "(He brings) some leadership. He’s got speed with or without the puck. He can join the rush. He can bring offence. He can play power play and likely will. He’s a pretty active player on our team."
Noel said Hainsey is an 18- or 19-minute player easily.
Tonight also marks the return to Washington of right-winger Eric Fehr. The Winkler product was drafted by the Caps in 2003’s first round and played 230 games here before he was dealt to the Jets in a salary-cap move in the off-season.
Tonight, the Caps are expected to bring struggling winger Alex Semin back into the lineup. Semin was a healthy scratch on Monday against Phoenix due to excessive penalties and not enough scoring.