Chris Clark is probably looking forward to the second round of interviews with the media this training camp.
For the better part of two years, Clark has had to answer questions during almost every inquiry about his physical health because of a string of injuries and questions about his mental health trying to deal with the frustration.
After confirming he is starting the 2009-10 season with a clean bill of health and recanting the misery of the past two years, Clark’s next round of questioning likely will focus on other topics.
“I’d like to be able to talk about games and not myself for a change,” Clark said. “I’m ready, and everything is rolling. I’m all set.”
Clark scored 50 goals in his first two seasons with the Washington Capitals, but ear, groin and wrist maladies have limited him to a total of six goals and 50 games in the past two campaigns. Once counted on as Alex Ovechkin’s wing man on the top line, Clark was forced to sit and watch his teammates morph into one of the league’s elite attractions.
When Clark was able to play, it was often in a reduced role or with limited effectiveness because he was trying to compete despite an injury. There were times the offense was lacking gritty play in front of the net and in the corners, and the elixir - a healthy Clark - wasn’t available.
Now Clark is operating at 100 percent, and the Caps have their captain back.
“It is huge. I can tell already he’s healthy,” forward Boyd Gordon said. “He’s shooting the puck well and skating well. I think he brings a different dimension. He can score goals and play physical.”
Added coach Bruce Boudreau: “You’ve got a guy that is hungry. He’s always been a tremendous character guy, but now you’ve got a guy who has been unhealthy for almost two years and he’s back. I’m looking forward to having him do really well.”
Just what role Clark will be coming back to remains to be seen. Washington signed a player with comparable skills this offseason in Mike Knuble, and he is a lock to occupy the right wing on one of the top two lines.
Alexander Semin also has played on the right side for much of Boudreau’s tenure, but with Tomas Fleischmann out until at least mid-October, there could be an opening among the top six forwards.
“If I’m expected to be on the top two lines, I know I can keep up with those guys and put goals in the net,” Clark said. “If I’m on a shutdown line, that’s been my game all along before I got here when I was in Calgary. I could easily go back to that role. It is something where if it doesn’t work out, there can always be changes down the road and I can work back into it another way.”
A full season of good health for Clark would make a deep offensive club even more dangerous. It also would be a boon for Washington in the leadership department. Having Sergei Fedorov around helped ease the loss of Clark’s veteran presence in the dressing room, and now Clark essentially will do the same after the Russian center returned to his native country.
After missing three months because of wrist surgery, Clark returned to the Caps’ lineup for the final eight games of their postseason run. He matched his regular-season goal total with a tally in Game 4 of the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was exactly the type of goal the Caps were not scoring enough - both feet in the crease and multiple defenders harassing him.
“It was huge, not only physically being ready to play and knowing that everything held up, but I think mentally it helped a lot more going through the summer and coming into camp this year,” Clark said of returning during the postseason. “Physically, I think I knew I was ready, but just to get into it helped out a lot mentally for the summer. I knew I was ready to come back so I could just focus on having a normal camp.”