Capitals forward Mike Knuble had trouble remembering a practice this year that featured as much skating as Bruce Boudreau put his players through this morning at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
Boudreau had steadily been ramping up the conditioning since the Capitals' non-Olympic players returned to the ice Wednesday after a 10-day break, but this workout was clearly the toughest. After a sometimes tedious hour-long session focused almost exclusively on neutral-zone play, Boudreau had his team end practice with a shootout game involving sprints to mid ice and then some traditional suicide sprints across the width of the ice.
"Maybe one other day since training camp we've skated like that, probably when he was mad at us about something," said Knuble. "Guys knew it was coming today, it's just part of conditioning. It's good to get our feet moving."
So just how hard was this training camp-style practice? Usually players stay on the ice for 15 or 20 minutes post-practice to play shooting games and joke around. Today, all but one marched straight to the locker room, drenched in sweat and gasping for air.
"I think the biggest thing was a lack of numbers out there," said forward Matt Bradley. "We're missing a full line. That makes for some tough drills because you have to go a lot more than you usually do."
Boudreau said that after tomorrow's day off, he plans to work on defensive-zone coverage on Sunday and Monday and the power play on Tuesday before the Capitals return to the ice Wednesday for a game in Buffalo.
*The lone player to remain on the ice after practice was returning Olympian Semyon Varlamov, who didn't appear until halfway through practice because his equipment had yet to arrive from Vancouver. Once he had his pads on, the 21-year-old goalie faced shots from assistant coaches Bob Woods, Dean Evason, and Arturs Irbe for 30 minutes extra minutes before sitting down in the locker room to discuss his experience at the Winter Olympics.
Varlamov spent much of his time in Vancouver in the press box as Team Russia's third-string goalie. He did not appear in any games, but made it a point to take in everything he could from veteran Russian goaltenders Ilya Bryzgalov and Evgeni Nabakov and Team Russia GM and Russian goaltending legend Vladislav Tretiak.
"I think it's a good experience for me because I was talking with great guys, big stars," Varlamov said in English. "I learn how guys play in the Olympics, I watch many games."
Washington's other Olympians -- forwards Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Tomas Fleischmann -- are expected to rejoin the team on Sunday.
Be sure to check out tomorrow's notebook in the paper, where I'll have more on Boudreau's back-to-basics practices and what it was like for Varlamov to watch the Olympics side-by-side with Tretiak in the press box.
*Speaking of the goalies, Varlamov's return means the Capitals now have three on the roster, a logjam Boudreau addressed after practice.
"Only Theo has to clear waivers to go down, so we could send one down," he said. "But I haven't really had the meetings with [GM] George [McPhee] because we didn't know when Varly would be coming back. So this weekend, we'll be making decisions, probably by Monday, on that scenario. Now I believe Varly will have to go down [to Hershey] and play a game or two to get game-ready because he played one game for us and didn't play any in the Olympics. We're hoping that that will happen, so we'll see."
As for handicapping who will be the starting goaltender for the final 20 games of the regular season and into the playoffs, Boudreau was vague when asked if determining who would be between the pipes in the postseason is the team's biggest looming decision.
"I guess it would be," he said. "Theo's been playing really good of late, when Varly was healthy he was playing really good and when Neuvy was healthy, he was playing really good. So it's a tough call and I'm glad we don't have to make that call in the next day or two."
*Matt Bradley wouldn't take the bait when asked about the five-game suspension levied by the NHL to Cam Janssen of the St. Louis Blues yesterday for his hit on Bradley when the two teams played on Feb. 13. ("It's up to the league to decide those things and whatever they decide is usually the right thing," Bradley said.) But Boudreau didn't miss an opportunity to throw his two cents in.
"I thought it was quite adequate," he said. "The league saw it how we saw it. It was a dirty hit approximately a second and a half after Matt had let the puck go and he had turned his head, too. And it was a shot to the head. So it's over and done with; we don't play them anymore but I think it was good justice."
*On the injury front, goalie Michael Neuvirth (minor injury) and forward Jason Chimera (groin) both made it through all of today's practice.
That's all for me as I try to make it back to D.C. for the start of the USA-Finland game. I'm breaking out my Miikka Kirprusoff voodoo doll as I type this. Enjoy the Olympic hockey this afternoon and tonight.