- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Alex Ovechkin is always easy to spot at a Washington Capitals practice, courtesy of the bright yellow laces on his CCM skates.

Yesterday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, Ovechkin stood out for another reason — his helmet was fitted with a full plexiglass shield in place of the customary visor. He also will wear it tonight when the Caps face the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Buffalo Sabres, at HSBC Arena. Ovechkin has worn a helmet with a cage in juniors but never a plexiglass shield.

When asked whether he was comfortable with the shield, Ovechkin said, “I have to [wear it for] tomorrow morning’s skate. It is not like usual.”

Ovechkin needs the extra protection because he has 16 stitches on the inside of his mouth. Tampa Bay defenseman Dan Boyle caught him in the mouth with his stick midway through the third period Sunday just as Washington’s Alexandre Giroux was scoring to give the Caps a 6-1 lead.

“Giroux score goal, and Boyle just hit me in my face,” Ovechkin said. “I don’t know [what he was doing.] … It was shocking.”

There was no penalty called on the play despite Ovechkin’s bloodied-mouth pleas to the officials. It may have been because of the score and that it happened behind the play, but normally a high stick that draws blood is an automatic four-minute infraction.

Ovechkin and the Caps will see Boyle and the Lightning one more time this season — March 31 in Florida. The 22-year old Russian said there would be no retaliation.

“No, he sent text message to Clymes [Ben Clymer, who spent five years with the Lightning] and say he was sorry.”

Added Caps coach Glen Hanlon: “It is not like Boyle is known for that type of thing.”

Reunions abound

When Ovechkin debuts his new protective headwear tonight, he likely will be looking at a familiar face. It will be the first time the Caps face Dainius Zubrus since he was traded to Buffalo on Feb. 27.

Zubrus, who was lauded for being a mentor to Ovechkin the past two seasons, likely will be part of a Sabres line responsible for defending Ovechkin’s unit. Zubrus has shifted to right wing for Buffalo, so when he and Ovechkin are on the ice together, they will see a lot of each other.

“It is going to be weird,” Ovechkin said. “A month ago he was on our team, and right now he’s on different team. I call him two weeks ago after he played like two games. He is all right.”

As for Zubrus maybe having an advantage because of the time they spent playing together?

“Sometimes I don’t know where I go,” Ovechkin said. “So he never know when I am going.”

It also will be the first time playing against his former mates for Caps center Jiri Novotny, who was traded along with a first-round pick for Zubrus.

Pettinger close

Caps forward Matt Pettinger practiced yesterday, albeit with a red jersey while everyone else donned black or white. Pettinger hasn’t played since breaking his thumb in a 5-4 shootout loss against Tampa Bay on March 1.

Pettinger, who had a protective plastic brace put in his glove, said he hopes to return either Saturday at Montreal or Tuesday at home against Pittsburgh. The original prognosis was three to six weeks, and it will be three weeks tomorrow.

“It feels pretty good. It is going to be three weeks here pretty soon,” Pettinger said. “I can stick-handle and all that stuff, but shooting is still a little off.”

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