- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 29, 2005

An unfamiliar face took the practice ice for the Washington Capitals yesterday as left wing Jeff Friesen skated for the first time since he was injured Nov. 6 against Toronto.

Friesen sustained a sports hernia, a tear in the abdominal wall, and underwent surgery Dec. 8 after a specialist determined the injury was more than the typical groin problem athletes suffer. Rehabbing the injury would have done no good until it was surgically repaired.

Caps coach Glen Hanlon gave no timetable for Friesen’s return, but it is believed the left wing is perhaps two weeks ahead of the expected six to eight week recovery period.

Friesen, acquired from New Jersey for a conditional draft pick Sept. 26, skated for a short period of time and left for treatment, as expected.

The other medical news was not that positive. Goalie Brent Johnson, who took himself out in the second period of a 7-2 loss to New Jersey on Wednesday night, was not at practice yesterday and is not expected to be available this weekend because of a groin injury.

“I would have to guess, knowing him, that if he had to take himself out of the game he’s not going to be ready to skate or practice” this weekend, Hanlon said.

A backup would have to be summoned for games tomorrow and Sunday, either Frederic Cassivi from Hershey in the American Hockey League or Maxime Daigneault from South Carolina in the East Coast Hockey League.

Hanlon split two of the three defensive pairs for the Devils game and also moved forwards around while seeking offensive help from the right side and the defense.

“We’re just trying to get some production out of the right side,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s the right wings’ fault, but I don’t even know if a right winger has scored [at even strength] with Alex Ovechkin and Dainius Zubrus.”

Finding partners for the high-scoring and highly motivated Ovechkin has been a problem. He is extremely fast and creative, making up moves as he enters each different situation. He is not ignoring his two partners, but they probably can’t keep up with him and almost assuredly don’t have any idea what his next move will be.

Hanlon has moved Chris Clark, Brian Willsie and Brooks Laich in and out as the right wings on the first line, trying to find chemistry. One of the limitations Hanlon cited is the success of Brian Sutherby’s line with wings Ben Clymer and Matt Bradley; it works so well he doesn’t want to break it up.

Hanlon paired Steve Eminger with Bryan Muir trying to get more offense out of Eminger. That reunited Brendan Witt and Jamie Heward as a unit.

The Caps continued their barnstorming of neighborhood ice rinks yesterday, practicing at the Bowie Ice Arena, where they also will work at 11:15 a.m. today while the cooling tower at Piney Orchard Ice Arena is under repair. It is not known how long that will take.

The Caps practiced at the Gardens Ice House in Laurel on Monday.

“It’s like having open practices in a lot of different communities,” Hanlon said.

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