PITTSBURGH – Kevin Klein had big plans for his left arm before breaking it on March 11 in Washington.
“I’m trying to learn the banjo,” Klein said during a light moment on Monday morning, with music playing in the Rangers’ locker room. “That got a little messed up when I went down with my injury. True story.”
Of course, Klein’s primary focus since taking an Alex Ovechkin slap shot off his forearm that night was to rehabilitate and be ready to play in Game 1 of this first-round playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
He missed that target due to a “setback,” as he described it, but Monday morning was his first skate with teammates since the injury, and it’s conceivable he could be ready for Game 4 on Wednesday night if Tuesday’s practice in Pittsburgh goes well.
“I was progressing there for a while at a steady pace,” said Klein, 30, who originally was listed as out for only three-to-four weeks. “Then I was trying to push it hard and maybe pushed it a little too hard. So now I’m going on feeling, how it feels. And it’s coming along nicely.”
Klein said it wasn’t just about handling pain but also the grueling process of rebuilding his strength.
“The pain, you do stuff for pain,” said Klein, whose nickname with fans – ‘Optimus Klein,’ after Transformers character ‘Optimus Prime’ – was scrolled across a T-shirt worn by backup goalie Cam Talbot. “But there were times when I was trying to push too hard and my arm would go numb, or I couldn’t hold onto the stick. And that’s obviously not a good thing.”
Klein’s timeline therefore was pushed back to four-to-six weeks.
“It was just progressing really well and I tried to push it to get back and it kind of just stopped, the progression,” Klein added. “So we’ve kind of been really careful wit hit the past week and a half, and it’s coming along.”
Wednesday is the six-week mark, so he’s getting close.
“It feels pretty good, actually,” Klein said of his arm. “I took (Sunday) off because we were going at it pretty hard. I just did some treatment. Today, I was almost shooting wrist-shot-wise almost full, so I was pretty happy with that, how it came along the last two days. So now it’s about getting used to battle drills, different movements on the backhand, stuff like that. I’ve got to get used to it and get some strength back.”
The Rangers miss Klein as a locker room leader but more as a top-four defenseman who was having a career year before getting hurt: He scored seven of his nine goals in the Rangers’ first 30 games by Dec. 20, finished with 26 points in 65 games, and comprised a lockdown defensive pair with Marc Staal.
“I’m just trying to get back as soon as possible, not have any more setbacks or anything like that, and feel comfortable,” Klein said. “I want to be 100% so they can rely on me back there.”
The Rangers need Klein mostly for his physical presence in front of Henrik Lundqvist’s net. Veteran Dan Boyle struggles to match the Penguins’ strength at the crease, and also isn’t as responsible of a puck-mover as Klein.
The fact that Klein plays so physically, though, is even more of a reason why his arm needs to be 100 percent.
“When you’ve got big bodies coming in on you, you want to be sure of yourself, making sure you can hold your ground,” Klein said. “That’s a key obviously, especially with my game. To be comfortable out there, you don’t want to be focusing on an injury while you’re playing playoff hockey.”
Or while you’re playing the banjo.
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