- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 8, 2008

While the Washington Capitals have started to recover from an early season free fall, their captain has waited eagerly to join them.

It has been just as hard to sit and watch the wins as it was to stew about the losses for right wing Chris Clark, who has missed 25 of 42 games — including the past 17 with a groin injury.

“When we were losing games, I wanted to get out there and help the team,” Clark said. “Now we’re winning games, and I feel left out and want to be a part of that celebration.”

Although coach Bruce Boudreau said he expects Clark to sit out tomorrow night when the Caps play host to the Colorado Avalanche, the captain did join his teammates at Kettler Capitals Iceplex yesterday for a full workout. The game marks the beginning of a five-game homestand, and Clark hopes to rejoin the lineup sometime during the stretch.

Clark went through the drills alone in an orange jersey, but he did participate in the latter part of the practice with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on the top line after Matt Pettinger left the ice early.

“I just tried to push it a little more than I have been lately. It is not right where it should be, but it is a lot better than it has been,” Clark said of his groin. “I’ve been giving dates before, and they have come and passed, so I don’t want to now. It will be ready when it’s ready. … I wasn’t going 100 percent, and I don’t know if I could, but it was a lot better.”

Right wing Alexander Semin and goalie Brent Johnson also returned to practice yesterday. Semin, who missed the past two contests and logged only 1:45 against Ottawa on New Year’s Day because of a tailbone injury, is expected to suit up against the Avalanche barring a setback. Johnson sprained his left knee Dec. 27 at Pittsburgh, and Frederic Cassivi has backed up Olie Kolzig for the past three games.

“I still feel it a tad bit, but it is not bad though,” Johnson said. “I just got to get used to seeing the puck again. It has been a little while, and I need to get the reflexes back.”

Pettinger left practice early and went to visit a doctor, and center Michael Nylander did not practice at all. Boudreau deferred comment to general manager George McPhee, who said through a team spokesman later in the day that both are expected to play tomorrow.

After Clark established career bests in goals and points in each of his first two seasons in Washington, the third year has been a befuddling struggle. Clark, who signed a three-year, $7.9 million contract extension in July, did not score a point in the first seven games. He had two goals and two assists in the next two but was struck in the ear by a slap shot from Alex Ovechkin late in the Oct. 26 game against Vancouver.

The 31-year-old veteran returned for eight games, notching three goals in the final six, before hurting his groin Nov. 28 against Florida. It was originally diagnosed as a day-to-day injury, but he suffered a setback and now has missed more than five weeks.

“I thought it was a week or two weeks,” Clark said. “I started pregame skating with the guys after a week trying to get back in, but it got to a point where it didn’t get better for almost a month. It just stayed in one spot, and that’s what really frustrated me.”

The Caps also were without two of their top four defensemen at practice as Tom Poti (upper body) and Brian Pothier (head) did not participate. Should they be unavailable tomorrow, it will mean back-to-back games for Steve Eminger for the first time this season.

Eminger has dressed for only three games this year, including the team’s 5-4 overtime win in Montreal on Saturday afternoon. He saw only 6:32 of ice time in 11 shifts.

“It was tough. Things were happening very quickly,” Eminger said. “The pace — everything was just happening at a million miles per hour. Six minutes was tough, but that’s what was expected to ease back into the game. Hopefully, it can double next game and just go from there. It is just nice to be in a game and to win.”

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