- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Defenseman Brendan Witt stepped onto the ice yesterday for the first time since he was injured on March10 but it is still not known if he or the other injured Washington Capitals, Jaromir Jagr and Kip Miller, will be ready to face Calgary tomorrow night.

All three wore red shirts, barring them from physical contact, although Jagr has been cleared to resume play when he feels comfortable gripping his stick and shooting.

"Jagr did a lot of conditioning work but he didn't have a glove on so there wasn't a lot of work on stickhandling, puckhandling, that kind of thing," coach Bruce Cassidy said.

Miller suffered what is being called a bruised hand on Feb. 22 when the Caps lost to Detroit. Jagr was slashed across a wrist, cracking a bone, early in the third period against Boston on March 8. Witt was crunched into the rear boards by Philadelphia's Keith Primeau on March 10, suffering bruised ribs. He was administered a shot of cortisone before the team left.

What Jagr was attempting to prove with no glove protecting his injured hand and wrist was not immediately clear. While practice at the Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, was closed, word spreads in a hurry when the discussion centers on an injured superstar. The right wing was wearing a splint covering the injured area, a white piece of plastic that was plainly visible.

Jagr apparently has medical clearance to play only because it is not believed he can do any further damage to the cracked bone. The problem is not so much pain; it is his ability to grasp his stick properly and shoot with authority. He already has missed three games and the club has won twice without him.

"It's just a matter of when he's going to feel strong enough, when is he going to be comfortable gripping his stick, when is he going to be comfortable shooting," Cassidy said.

Witt "may be the closest to coming back because he took time off to heal and his was the least serious injury," Cassidy said. Witt left the game against Philadelphia immediately after he was hit more than a week ago and has been out of action since. Part of the reason for his inactivity is that the injury prevented him from breathing properly.

Speculation already is surfacing on what the makeup of the forward lines will be when both Jagr and Miller return. They made up the first line with Robert Lang centering.

But Lang has had immediate success with newcomer Sergei Berezin, obtained in a trade with Chicago on March 11. In two games, Berezin has a pair of goals one of them a game-winner and an assist.

Cassidy said yesterday that Jagr and Miller would go back to their normal spots when healthy and Berezin would move back to the second unit with center Michael Nylander. Cassidy wouldn't speculate further on the movement of personnel but three of the four forward lines (the checking unit would stay together) would have to be rearranged.

That might give Cassidy the opportunity to create a second checking unit, a line that would act pretty much as Jeff Halpern's does, playing against other teams' top lines and shutting them down. Having two checking units along with two offensive lines would be a major plus for Washington, something it hasn't had in recent memory, making it very difficult to play against.

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