- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 23, 2007

When Matt Pettinger needed a day away from the Victoria, B.C., gym he trained at this summer, the Washington Capitals forward headed for the beach.

Once a week during the summer, the group of players he worked out with — which included Caps defenseman Jame Pollack — would spend the day training in the sand, doing exercises to enhance quickness and lower body strength.

“It has been a long offseason the past couple of years, so come July and August you get a little tired of always entering the gym,” Pettinger said. “It’s not like we were out there with our shirts off whistling at the girls. It is hard work, it is just in a different circumstance. It sounds like a Venice Beach kind of thing, but sand is a very good tool because there is never an even line. Your balance is going one way and you are trying to go the other way.”

After spending most of the past two seasons on one of the Caps scoring lines, Pettinger returned to the team in a new role. Because of the organization’s busy offseason, there is newfound depth up front so Pettinger and Chris Clark will join Boyd Gordon on the team’s checking line.

The past two seasons Pettinger and Clark’s first priority has been tallying goals, but this year they will be charged with preventing them.

“That’s fine with me — any time we can get better. I see myself in this league as more of a third-line kind of player,” Pettinger said. “I’d like to think I am versatile and when needed can play on the second line. I’m sure this is a more comfortable position, playing on the third or fourth line with my style — physical but can chip in offensively too.

“When we were signing guys I wasn’t sitting there going, ‘Oh, there goes my ice time.’ This gives us a better chance to win hockey games, and that’s the bottom line.”

Two seasons ago, Pettinger had a mini-breakout year, potting 20 goals in his third full NHL season. Last year, he had 16 goals on a line opposite Alexander Semin with a revolving door at center. He likely would have surpassed the 20-goal mark, but he missed 18 games with a thumb injury.

Clark, the team’s captain, has produced back-to-back career years since joining the Caps and playing on the top line with Alex Ovechkin. He had 20 goals and 39 points in 2005-06, and pushed those totals to 30 and 54 last season.

Moving to the third line could cut into their offensive production, but the Caps haven’t deployed a checking unit with guys with that type of offensive track record in recent seasons. They will be matched up against the opposing team’s top players, and there will be counterattack chances against stars who aren’t enamored with the idea of having to play defense.

“The other team has got to worry not just about them playing well defensively and shutting down the top line, but they have the ability to go down to the other end and put the puck in the net too,” Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig said. “They are a double threat.”

Pettinger referenced Anaheim’s checking line of Samuel Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen as a group that doesn’t always produce a lot of offense but gained a lot of recognition for its work in last year’s Stanley Cup Finals against Ottawa’s top line.

The Caps new checking unit faced those Senators, with Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza, on Thursday night. Each of those three stars registered a goal, and the Caps trio finished the night as a combined minus-6.

“Besides [Thursday] night it has been pretty good,” Gordon said. “Hopefully we can kind of get in a groove once we have a few more games together.”

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