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Finally, Fedorov feels his way back

- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2009

The end of last season developed like a fairy tale for Sergei Fedorov. After years in Columbus that lacked fulfillment, the former NHL MVP was rejuvenated by a trade to the Washington Capitals.

Last summer, Fedorov decided to return to the Caps, but this season hasn't gone quite the same way. Following an ankle injury that derailed him for much of the first half, he hopes to finish strong - like last season.

"Overall not," Fedorov said on whether this season has been frustrating. "Because the injury I got, in a sense was not my fault - it was an accident. After that, it was tough for 12 weeks."

Added Alex Ovechkin: "I think he play great at the start of the year. Then he got injured, and right now he is getting better and for the playoffs I think he's going to be 100 percent ready."

Fedorov first injured his ankle Nov. 6 against Carolina. He tried to come back 16 days later at San Jose, but his ice time against the Sharks lasted less than five minutes.

A second comeback also proved futile - he played two games in mid-December before shutting it down again. In total, the injury cost him 27 games and limited him in several others.

"Being injured, with the ankle injury especially, was not fun," he said. "There was nothing you could do to it. There are only so many shots or extra MRIs or ice machines. Only time will heal it, and it was the most frustrating injury I've ever had - more frustrating than third-degree shoulder separations or concussions or anything like that.

"You feel healthy, you feel absolutely balanced and you can play, but once you get back on the ice, it doesn't go well for you."

Now the six-time All-Star is starting to inch back closer to full health. He has played in six consecutive games without a problem.

He scored his first goal since November in the final game before the All-Star break at Ottawa; the 16:16 of ice time was the most he had logged in a regulation contest in nearly three months.

That has been a big change for Fedorov since returning from the ankle injury. In the 11 games before the injury, Fedorov's lowest time on ice was 16:44, in the season-opener against Atlanta. In the seven games he has completed since, he has played more than 16 minutes only three times.

"Since I've been healed, I've been having a good time. I'm just not playing quite as much as I was," he said. "Hopefully one day, coaches will see to give a couple of extra minutes. If it's not, it is OK - I can still do what I have to do to help make this club better.

"I feel decent during the games. I am playing 13 to 16 minutes, so every shift is important and that's what I'm concentrating on and trying to make the best of it. There are some times when I am a little out of sync."

Fedorov's ice time could increase as soon as Saturday, when the Caps host the Detroit Red Wings. Coach Bruce Boudreau put Fedorov between Ovechkin and Alexander Semin on the team's top line at practice Friday.

"He is still just feeling his way around. I'm sure he's not quite 100 percent to where he wants to be yet, but it takes a little while - especially when you're older," Boudreau said. "When Sergei is ready and he's on his game, he's on his game on the ice, on the bench and in the dressing room. That is what was fabulous last year. You can tell he's getting close."

Nicklas Backstrom centered the second unit between Tomas Fleischmann and Eric Fehr at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. As a young, burgeoning talent, Backstrom is one of many precocious Caps who have benefited from having Fedorov around.

"He has great experience. I can't imagine how many years he's played here," Backstrom said. "I think he has been really important, especially for the Russian guys. Plus his English is so good. He's a big leader, and it is important for us young guys to look up to him."

Added Fedorov: "I'm not definitely a hands-on tutor or coach, but I first of all like to show by example, and second of all, if guys have any questions I like to help and correct some guys. ... If I can find balance while playing 15 or 16 minutes and be a good player for this club, I think we have a chance to be a great club."