If Cote's back, Caps will find him handy Defenseman may return tonight


The white plastic cast was gone from Sylvain Cote's left hand yesterday, and the Washington Capitals defenseman was hard at work alongside Al Iafrate in preparation for Cote's first game of the season tonight against the New York Rangers.

"The doctors have basically said yes, he can go. Now, it's up to him to tell me how he feels," said Caps coach Terry Murray. "He said he felt pretty good after practice [yesterday]. Now, we have to wait and see if he stiffens up.

"He'll work out with us again [today], and if he says yes, I'll use him in a limited way during the first period and see how he's going. But if he's going to be able to suit up, he has to be able to play in every situation."

There is nothing like a little on-ice

inspiration to speed the healing process. Not only is Cote expected to suit up tomorrow, but center Michal Pivonka, who has been bothered by an injured hamstring for the past week, also told Murray yesterday he feels ready to come back.

The Caps, who started this season 1-3, are on a two-game winning streak. Tonight, they will be looking for their first Patrick Division victory after having lost to the Philadelphia Flyers, New Jersey Devils and Rangers by the same 4-2 score.

Murray said he was surprised when Pivonka said he felt good enough to play. "I thought he'd be another few days," Murray said. "Now, he'll have me doing some more pencil work on the train [trying to figure out a lineup]. But that's good. I like that kind of work."

Cote, 26, is capable of playing in all situations, and his speed will "upgrade the tempo of play," Murray said.

While Cote, who had 11 goals and 29 assists last season, has been on the sidelines, fellow defenseman

Shawn Anderson, who was called up from the Skipjacks last week, has produced three assists in the past two games.

Yesterday, Murray said Anderson has played at a high level and "stood out as one of the better defenders" all through training camp.

"It was important for us to be a little patient and give him some time to get to know us and us to know him," Murray said. "He's played in pretty much every situation for me. He's experienced now. He's 24 years old, and I think this is the time when a defenseman is just starting to understand and play the game the way it is supposed to be played. It takes time. . . . His skill level, his instincts -- he has a lot of talent."

Cote said the bones in his hand are healing properly, and he feels only slight pain.

"If I thought it was dangerous, I could wait to come back," Cote said. "It feels good, and it's nice to come back while we're winning. When you're losing, guys can be uptight, but in this locker room, everyone is smiling."

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