- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2003

It was a routine drill a week before the start of the Washington Capitals season. Some bubble players were still in camp working out against players certain to be in uniform on opening day.

In one drill Michael Nylander, the first-line center who had 17 goals and 56 points for the Caps last season after being obtained from Chicago, had the puck behind one of the cages when he collided with Nolan Yonkman, a 6-foot-6, 245-pound defenseman who was trying to make the team.

Both players went down, but only Yonkman got up. Nylander’s frustration and pain clearly could be heard from one end of Piney Orchard Ice Arena to the other. His right leg was broken, and he was out four-to-six weeks, severely altering a summer’s worth of planning.

Nylander returned to Piney Orchard yesterday not quite ready to pick up where he left off. The cast on his leg was removed Friday and he is working to regain motion and strength before he can try skating.

After a considerable amount of experimenting with various combinations last season, Nylander was slotted on the first line between Jaromir Jagr on the left and, for the most part, Kip Miller on the right. He demonstrated he could hold the puck longer than the other centers, allowing Jagr time to get into what he thought was favorable shooting position.

“Nylander is the missing piece,” one club official said last week, trying to evaluate the team’s talent and what was preventing the club from climbing out of its 5-12-1 hole. “He’s the missing piece on offense for us — on the power play, 4-on-4, full strength. He was our best center and our second-best forward.”

Nylander has no idea when he will be ready to play or even get back on the ice.

“All the time, even though I had a cast on, I could do everything — upper body stuff, legs, all the exercises and the biking,” he said. “Before that I was in the water, swimming a lot. Shape-wise, I feel pretty good.”

He received permission from the club to spend the initial portion of his rehab in Chicago, where his family still resides. “That definitely helped me mentally, and that’s the hardest part. It’s been much easier,” the center said.

Nonetheless, it has been a long haul.

“I worked out all summer, and this is almost like another summer working out in the gym,” he said. “You prepare yourself all summer to play hockey, and now you don’t play hockey. It’s quite boring. But there’s nothing you can do about it except be ready to play when it’s time to play again.”

And when will that be?

“I don’t want to set a date,” he said, but it’s a few weeks down the road.

Notes — Cassidy had a few things he wanted to work on at practice yesterday, including defensive zone coverage, but some of the players apparently were not concentrating on the task at hand.

“So we switched gears and worked on our conditioning,” he said. “We switched gears because we didn’t seem to have a lot of focus. We want to get something out of practice all the time, and that’s what we got today.”

Cassidy had the team skate in various patterns for the better part of an hour.

Jagr missed practice, but the reason was unclear. One report had him sick; another had him injured. … Center Brian Sutherby was back on the ice yesterday, seemingly recovered from his back strain, and should play in Boston tomorrow night. Three others besides Nylander remain out: John Gruden (groin), Matt Pettinger (concussion) and Sebastien Charpentier (hip). … Defenseman Jason Doig was excused from practice so he could be present when his wife gave birth.

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