Clark Happy to Be Back to Grind

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 23, 2007

Chris Clark lived a grinder's dream his first two seasons with the Washington Capitals. He skated on a line with all-star Alex Ovechkin, and as a result enjoyed consecutive career seasons.

Clark's ride, though, is about to come to an end. The Capitals' captain has been asked to return to his roots and play right wing on the third line, meaning his primary responsibility will be preventing goals, not scoring them.

Clark's reaction? If it's good for the Capitals, then it's good for him. He learned of Coach Glen Hanlon's decision earlier this month.

"Glen called and told me that he was putting line combinations together and figuring out where guys were going to play," he said. "I think it's great because it means our team is going in the right direction."

Clark is expected to start the season skating with center Boyd Gordon and left wing Matt Pettinger. Although their primary responsibility will be to shut down the opposing team's best offensive players, Hanlon hopes the trio also will chip in with 50 or more goals, which would put them among the league's elite checking units.

Clark scored 30 goals last season and Pettinger is a year removed from tallying 20. Gordon, meantime, thinks defense first, which should allow Clark and Pettinger to take more risks.

"Just because Ovechkin can score 50 goals, that doesn't mean he's any more important than Clark, Pettinger and Gordon eliminating 50 goals," Hanlon said. "We need Clark's 30 goals. We can't improve by 50 goals if we lose 20 goals from him."

Being asked to change lines capped what had already been a busy offseason for Clark. The 31-year-old captained Team USA in the world championships in May. Then in July, he signed a three-year, $7.9 million contract extension that locks him up through the 2010-11 season. Later that month, his wife, Kim, gave birth to the couple's third child, Rylan.

Then came the call from Hanlon, who said he was appreciative, but not surprised, by Clark's attitude.

"That's why he's our captain," Hanlon said. "I wouldn't have even tried it if I didn't know I would have his 100 percent participation."

Hanlon said he doesn't expect Clark's ice time to decrease from the 18 minutes 25 seconds per game he averaged last season because he plans to continue to give him significant minutes on the power-play and penalty-kill units.

Clark's versatility also could serve the Capitals well later on. Prospects Tomas Fleischmann and Nicklas Backstrom appear to have locked up spots on the first and second lines, but should one of them falter, Hanlon could easily put Clark back with Ovechkin.

"I really don't think about it too much," Clark said. "If the team is winning, guys don't care where they are playing."

Capitals Note: Alexander Semin's goal early in the second period gave visiting Washington a 2-1 preseason victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Semin redirected a pass from Backstrom past goalie Johan Holmqvist 1:41 into the period.

Washington left wing David Steckel opened the scoring 7:46 into the game, deflecting John Erskine's slap shot past Holmqvist.

Lightning defenseman Dan Boyle was injured after the game. Distracted while he was hanging up his skate, it slipped off of the hook and cut a tendon in his left wrist. He was to have surgery today and will be out several weeks.

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