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After forgettable season, Caps’ Jason Chimera feeling young again

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So much about last season in the NHL was just plain odd.

Where to begin? The lockout that canceled almost half the season. The five days of training camp. For the Capitals, a slow start that had them at the bottom of the league standings for a good stretch.

Then there's this: The Caps' Jason Chimera had three goals, the first of which didn't come until the 28th game of the season.

Three? Chimera is not Alex Ovechkin. He's never going to challenge for a scoring title. But three? Coming off a season in which he had a career-best 20 goals, the total was quite a letdown for a player who, at 34, still ranks among the fastest in the game.

"Jason is as fast as he's ever been," teammate Eric Fehr said.

Chimera's plan going into the 2013-14 season is simple: forget the last regular season happened.

"I'd like to throw the regular season out and think of it as scoring 20 goals last year," Chimera said with a smile. "I've played pretty consistent over my career. Guys have down years, so hopefully that was my down year and it's out of the way.

"There were some weird circumstances — the lockout and coming in late, not a lot of training camp. Just one of those seasons you want to forget about, goals- and points-wise. I know I'm better than that. The last [full] regular season I scored 20 goals. That hasn't disappeared."

Chimera has indeed been a consistent player. He had at least 10 goals in seven of the previous eight seasons before last year. He looked more like his old self during the Caps' brief playoff appearance last season, tallying a goal and two assists in the seven-game defeat to the New York Rangers.

"I was proud of the way I played in the playoffs," Chimera said. "I always seem to have another gear and I guess that's a good character point to have. I'd rather be known as a terrible regular-season player than a terrible playoff player. I've always been a guy who raises his level in the playoffs, so that's a good thing.",

Caps coach Adam Oates seems willing to buy into the "didn't happen" school of thought regarding Chimera's previous season. Though it was his first season in charge of the Caps' on-ice fortunes, Oates knows enough about Chimera to know there's more there.

"He's very important to our team," Oates said. "I told him that at the end of the year. He played very well in the playoffs. We need for him to play the way he did in the playoffs. Hopefully that was a real confidence booster for him.

"The regular season, yeah, it was tough. He came off a phenomenal year and once again, we had a lousy start and he had a lousy start because of it. We all did. It affected him and hopefully we're through it."

The season opens Tuesday night in Chicago against the defending champion Blackhawks, two days before the Caps have their home opener against Calgary. Where Chimera will fit into the Caps' attack is still being sorted out. Chimera isn't concerned about that. He considers himself "a good player up and down the lineup."

Will he be on the fourth line with Joel Ward and Jay Beagle? Will the possible inclusion on the roster of teen-ager Tom Wilson affect him, as someone has to be moved to make room for Wilson under the salary cap? That's not to say Chimera will be the player moved, but the ripple effect could alter the lines.

Whatever happens, Chimera said, he's ready. He is, after all, coming off a 20-goal season in his own mind.

"I feel good," he said. "I feel young. I'm ready to go."

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