- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Having played nearly 12 minutes in Saturday’s win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, the work had just begun for Washington Capitals captain Chris Clark.

“I don’t know what they have planned,” he said of the team’s training and conditioning staffs. “But it’s one hour, minimum.”

Such is the labor required for a 33-year-old player who has battled back from a two-year stretch of ear, groin and wrist injuries that cost him 127 regular-season and playoff games.

Clark’s routine after home games is a 40-minute “complete-body” workout, 20 minutes of rehabilitation and, finally, a quick stretch.

Not that he minds.

Two years of injuries and watching the Caps win consecutive Southeast Division titles have given way to playing third-line right wing with center David Steckel and left wing Quintin Laing.

Heading into Tuesday’s game at Philadelphia, Clark is averaging 11:29 of ice time and assisted on Mike Knuble’s power-play goal against Toronto.

“I think he’s got a little bit of his jump back, a little bit of his step,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I’m real happy for him, and if he continues that he’s going to be a big help to this team.”

Clark gives the Caps another sandpaper presence in the top nine forwards; he’s tough to play against. The front of the opponent’s net is where he has scored the majority of his 91 NHL goals.

The Caps’ offense should attack teams in waves. The first two lines already have been productive - does signing Knuble and parting ways Viktor Kozlov already look the biggest no-brainer move of the offseason? And Brooks Laich has thrived with his promotion to the line centered by Brendan Morrison.

But a potential added dimension is getting Clark back as a regular. In wins over Boston and Toronto, he has impressed, even getting some duty with the second power-play unit.

Against Toronto, Clark lifted a pass during a three-on-one break over a sliding Maple Leafs defender to Mike Green, who almost made it 4-0. In the second period, Clark’s shot during a rush was wide, but he corralled the rebound behind the goal and fed a between-the-legs pass to Laing, who got stoned by goalie Jonas Gustavsson.

“I didn’t really know how it was going to work out,” Steckel said. “We didn’t play much together last year or much in practice leading up.”

When he was traded to Washington, Clark spent his first two years on the top two lines, posting 50 goals and 43 assists. But then the injuries started. A groin injury sidelined him for all but one game in the final four months of the regular season and playoffs. He tried to play through the wrist injury last year before undergoing surgery in early February 2009.

Clark’s road to 2009-10 started in last year’s playoffs. Limited to 32 games because of wrist surgery, he returned to the lineup in Game 7 of the Rangers series because of Donald Brashear’s suspension and played in all seven games of the Pittsburgh series.

“Physically, I was definitely ready,” he said. “It was mentally, getting into that hockey shape and getting into games and just being involved.”

Being involved in the games makes it easier for Clark to perform his off-ice leadership role. He succeeded Jeff Halpern as captain before the 2006-07 season.

“It does make it easier, definitely, to lead by example,” Clark said. “There’s only so much you can say after a game when you’re not in the locker room between periods or before the game.”

Said Steckel: “Just his presence in the locker room alone - that’s why he wears the ‘C.’ ”

The third line could undergo a makeover once Tomas Fleischmann and Eric Fehr return from injuries. The Caps could put Fleischmann on the second line and move Laich to form a formidable trio with Clark and Steckel.

“It could be huge,” Clark said. “It’s going to take a while when Flash is healthy. But if he’s anything like he was last year, which he will, he’s definitely going to be a force, and you see how well Brooks Laich is playing.”

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