- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 29, 2011

It was the best elbow to the head Jay Beagle ever received.

On his first shift after missing 31 games with a concussion, Beagle was backchecking against Mike Rupp and took a nice little stiff arm up high. For a guy who hadn’t played since getting knocked out by an Arron Asham punch Oct. 13, it could’ve been scary.

But it was just what the Washington Capitals’ forward needed.

“I don’t think I was happy about it, but it was reassuring,” Beagle said. “It just gave me confidence that my head is a hundred percent, and I feel good.”

Beagle played just 5:55 Wednesday night against the New York Rangers, as assistant coach Dean Evason spent the night monitoring his shifts. Conditioning was more of an issue leading up to Beagle’s return, he said, than any post-concussion symptoms.

“The first shift I came off, I think I held my breath the first shift the whole time,” he said. “I came off a little winded. But after that I got into a rhythm and felt good.”

Beagle replaced Mathieu Perreault in the lineup, as the 23-year-old center had to take it easy after a stick to the spleen Monday night. Perreault is OK and ready to play Friday night if necessary, but it may be hard to crack the lineup with Beagle back.

“He’s a lot of fun to have in the lineup. His work ethic is kind of contagious,” linemate Matt Hendricks said. “You see him out there working his butt off every shift — he doesn’t leave anything. He gives it all. And it’s a lot of fun playing with a guy like that. I definitely enjoy it.”

As a fourth-liner, Beagle isn’t the key to the Caps’ success, but he wants to make a difference.

“I hope I can contribute to the team,” he said. “You never want to come into the lineup and have the lineup be worse.”

It sure didn’t look worse Wednesday, with the Caps taking it to the Rangers in the physical aspect of the game. Beagle might have just been a small part of that, but if Hendricks is right about contagious work ethic, that’s a good thing for the 26-year-old forward’s ability to keep playing.

As for making an impact with his fists, Beagle insists he won’t hesitate, if necessary. But he’s also admittedly not a heavyweight.

“I’m not a fighter. I’ve always said if it happens, it happens. But I’m never looking for fights,” Beagle said. “I’m looking to spark the team with energy and hits and if that results in a fight and someone comes at me, I don’t think twice about it.”

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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