With Capitals defenseman John Erskine suspended for the next three games, it is likely that Tom Poti will take his place in the lineup on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Poti appeared in the first three games of the season, but has been a healthy scratch for the last five. He took part in an optional skate at Kettler Iceplex on Saturday and came off the ice well before fellow veteran defenseman Roman Hamrlik, who also played in the first three games before becoming a healthy scratch.

Poti, of course, hadn’t played in the NHL in two years as a groin injury and a pelvic fracture kept him sidelined, his career thought finished. But he made progress finally over the summer and fall and felt well enough to test himself during a brief training camp after the NHL lockout ended this month.

“It’s been tough,” Poti said. “I was finally starting to get my legs a little bit and starting to feel a little comfortable. And I’ve had to sit out five games or so. So kind of have to go back to square one and start all over again.”

Indeed, it isn’t just missing the games that has Poti struggling to maintain his form after a long layoff. He also isn’t getting much time in practice to prepare because of the compressed NHL schedule, Washington coach Adam Oates said on Saturday. With the Caps in the midst of seven games in 12 days, the time between games has become either optional skates with a focus on video work or complete days off. That’s an added challenge for someone in Poti’s position.

“Hey, listen, [Poti] had two years off. He knows how to play the game,” Oates said. “And he’s had another week of skating at this speed, NHL speed, to see the game and also see our system, which I think is growing within the team. We talk about it out there, what I see that he needs to do to fit into the system.”

Poti played against Tampa Bay in the season opener and then in games vs. Winnipeg and Montreal. He is a -2 on the season, though he did assist on a goal against the Lightning. Poti did say he still feels healthy. No groin or hip issues have popped up since he returned – though he knocked on the wooden locker stall when asked that question by local reporters.

“[The coaches] didn’t say too much,” Poti said. “When they took me out of the lineup they said they wanted to give a couple of other guys a chance to play and give them a few games and then those guys played well so they didn’t want to take them out. It’s not the way you want to get in the lineup. Hopefully Erskine doesn’t get suspended. But if they need me to play I’ll be ready.”

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