- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 3, 2009

Chris Clark missed most of last season with ear and groin injuries, so when a broken forearm knocked him out for a month, the Washington Capitals’ captain was understandably frustrated.

As it turns out, the time off might have been good for him. Clark was not able to perform up to his standards during the first two months of this season, in part because he didn’t have adequate time to prepare after being cleared to return from the groin injury. The broken arm gave him a chance to work on other skills.

“I got to skate more,” he said. “I worked on my skating a lot because that was the only thing I could do for about three weeks. It might have been a good thing for my lower body, just to concentrate on my skating. It was something I couldn’t do all summer long.”

Clark played 20 games for the Capitals in the first two months of the season, but he did not score. The same guy who netted 30 goals in 2006-07 even spent one night watching as a healthy scratch. There were times when he looked sluggish - a second late or a stride away from making a big play.

“I didn’t feel like it, but the results were always a step slow,” he said. “In my mind, I don’t remember [being sluggish] because I was always trying as hard as I can, like I always do. But the results weren’t there, so from looking at tape and talking to coaches, it just ended up being [a] step slow.”

Added coach Bruce Boudreau: “If you haven’t played at this level, you don’t have any idea [about] taking a year off and how hard it is. Look at how many players missed [a year because of the 2004-05 lockout] and are now out of hockey. It is a difficult thing, which is why you have to keep playing.”

After missing 14 games with the forearm injury, Clark returned Dec. 26 against Buffalo, and his play began to improve. He managed just one shot in the first two games, but he has three each of the past two.

He finally broke through with his first goal of the season Thursday in a wild 7-4 win against Tampa Bay. After the game, Boudreau said a long goal drought can “prey on your mind,” but Clark didn’t seem to be too fazed by it. It had been 24 games between goal celebrations, but because of the injuries, the drought had lasted more than 13 months. His last goal had come Nov. 28, 2007, against Florida.

“It obviously feels good to score, but the team has been winning and been doing well,” he said. “I would have been pressing a lot more and I probably would’ve been a lot worse if the team wasn’t winning.”

The Capitals were without pugilist Donald Brashear on Thursday, so Clark also contributed in another way. He took exception to Adam Hall’s encounter with Caps defenseman Shaone Morrisonn, dropping his gloves with the Lightning forward.

Never mind that Clark is still wearing a protective brace on his arm. He said he was tired of injuries keeping him from standing up for a teammate.

“That’s who he is - he doesn’t back down from nobody,” defenseman Mike Green said. “That’s the kind of guy he is. He will drop the gloves for us.”

Added forward Eric Fehr: “We’ve got our leader back. He’s fearless. He gets into a fight [Thursday] night, scores a big goal - that’s the stuff captains do. We’re excited to have him back.”

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