NOTEBOOK

Johnson Is Ready; Muir, Erskine, Pothier Are Close

Brian Pothier skated yesterday for the first time since suffering a concussion on Jan. 18.
Brian Pothier skated yesterday for the first time since suffering a concussion on Jan. 18. "I'm progressing," Pothier said. "Each day I'm getting better." (By Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)
By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 8, 2007

Each of the Washington Capitals' injured players -- backup goaltender Brent Johnson and defensemen Bryan Muir, John Erskine and Brian Pothier -- skated in various capacities yesterday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

Though Johnson is the only one healthy enough to return for tonight's game against the struggling Los Angeles Kings at Verizon Center, merely the sight of the others on skates was a positive development for the Capitals, who have lost six of their past eight games, including Tuesday's 3-2 shootout loss to the visiting Boston Bruins.

Erskine (broken lower left tibia) and Muir (broken right foot) joined their teammates for the first 45 minutes of the session, their first team-related activity since suffering the injuries four days apart in mid-December. General Manager George McPhee said he hopes both will return to the lineup in seven to 10 days.

The players' progress comes during a light stretch in the schedule. After tonight, the Capitals play just twice more over the next nine days, meaning they could be available to play in Pittsburgh on Feb. 18. Although it's probably too late for them to help resuscitate the Capitals' playoff hopes, they could help the rebuilding club finish strong.

"It felt good," Muir said. "The X-rays looked good, so the process is going along as it should. It still gets a little sore when I get up on to my toes. It's probably 75 to 80 percent when I don't tweak it."

Erskine, wearing an ice pack wrapped around his ankle, said it felt quite sore but that he was happy to be part of the team again.

"That hardest part is feeling like you're not part of things," he said. "They go out on the road and I just hang out here and work out on my own. I'm going to try to take the pregame skate [today] just to be with the guys. It's not a hundred percent healed, but I can't make it any worse."

McPhee was equally as optimistic about Pothier, who skated for the first time since being driven headfirst into the boards at Carolina on Jan. 18. He has missed eight games and could be out another week, although providing an exact time frame for recovering from a concussion is tricky.

"I'm progressing," Pothier said. "Each day I'm getting better. I just want to continue to progress and not have any setbacks."

Ovechkin Rebounds

Twenty-four hours after a sullen and dejected Alex Ovechkin described Tuesday's 3-2 shootout loss as the worst performance of his career, the all-star was smiling, cracking jokes and delivering one-liners, despite his career-long three-game pointless streak.

"Of course I want to score," said Ovechkin, who has slipped to second in goals (33) behind Tampa Bay's Vincent Lecavalier (34). "Everybody wants to score. I'm not thinking about it too much. But if I don't score, I want to think about my game and how I play. If we win and I don't score, it's okay."

Asked whether he could guarantee a goal against the Kings, Ovechkin joked: "I can't say 100 percent that I will score goal. But I can 99 percent." . . .

Minor league goaltender Frederic Cassivi was returned to Hershey (Pa.) of the American Hockey League. . . . Los Angeles, the league's second-worst team, has lost 11 of its past 13 games.


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