- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2007

Captain Chris Clark will return to the lineup for the Washington Capitals tonight, but it will be in a slightly different role.

Certainly Clark’s place as a leader in the locker room has not changed, but he will not be reunited with Alex Ovechkin on the team’s top line. Clark, who missed the past six games with a strained shoulder, skated with Boyd Gordon — who also will be in his first game back from a knee injury — and Brooks Laich during practice Wednesday.

Caps coach Glen Hanlon has decided — at least for now — to keep Ovechkin and Alexander Semin together.

“Right now all I am saying is that Ovie and Sasha [Semin] are playing together and working hard. There is no better time than now to experiment and see how they are going to play,” Hanlon said. “We had a checking line [Gordon, Matt Pettinger and Matt Bradley] that was going quite well and I am just trying to put together something again in that vein.”

Clark has been on the right side of the team’s top line for the past two seasons since being acquired in a trade from Calgary in August 2005. He had career highs in goals (20) and points (39) last year and already has surpassed those marks with 24 goals and 43 points this season.

Dainius Zubrus was the unit’s center when Clark got hurt, but he is now in Buffalo and Hanlon has been shuffling his centers around in search of combinations that work well together. Jiri Novotny, who was acquired for Zubrus, finished the game in Toronto on Tuesday between the Russian phenoms on the top line and he skated with them on Wednesday.

“The lines have been different every game. I was trying to figure them out on TV last night and I couldn’t really do it,” Clark said. “I think it is just a thing that might happen until we can find another line that is going to click like we did. It is unusual to find a line that clicks for almost two years, and it was awesome while it did.

“I think we’ve played well together and had a lot of chemistry, but part of that chemistry came from having Dainius in the middle so you never know what can happen.”

Shootout power outage

Several of the Caps’ forwards took a few minutes after the hour-long workout Wednesday to work on shootout moves. Washington has lost 10 of its 11 games that have reached the one-on-one format this season.

The Caps have two of the league’s most gifted scorers in Ovechkin and Semin, but both have struggled. Ovechkin is 1-for-11 this season and Semin is 2-for-9. Hanlon did keep Ovechkin out of his starting lineup for the team’s last shootout loss against Tampa Bay, but his options are limited.

“You have to make your decisions, but you’ve got two 35-goal scorers and your next highest goal scorer is eight with Pettinger and Clark out,” Hanlon said. “That is where you are. Do you sit one of the 35-goal scorers out and put in two eight-goal scorers?”

Plenty of other players had a chance against the Lightning in a shootout that went 10 rounds. With Pettinger out because of a broken thumb and Zubrus in Buffalo, Laich is the only other player on the team with an NHL shootout goal. The rest of tonight’s active roster is a combined 0-for-14.

“You can practice these things 100 times,” Hanlon said. “You watch guys and they are fooling around and doing all this [makes several deke motions], but then they come in [a game] and go straight down the center of the ice and shoot the puck. It is all about having confidence.

“[Rangers coach] Tom Renney said it best — there is no science to this. It is all trying to look at human psychology.”

Godzilla returns?

Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig went through part of the practice session. He was in full gear and taking shots in his normal butterfly style. Afterward Hanlon said Kolzig would take more shots in a smaller workout for ailing players on Thursday, and barring any setbacks he could be ready to return next week, possibly either Thursday at Boston or Friday at home against Toronto.

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