By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
The atmosphere in the Washington Capitals' locker room was noticeably more upbeat yesterday, hours after the last-place team won for the third time in four contests, 3-2 over the New Jersey Devils.
One player, though, found it difficult to smile. Chris Clark missed his fifth consecutive game Monday because of a strained groin muscle. He suffered the injury Nov. 28 against the Florida Panthers and initially thought he would miss just two or three games, four at the most. But in recent days, improvement has come in smaller increments, and last night the Capitals acknowledged that he's been downgraded from day-to-day to week-to-week.
"It's about the same," Clark said before skating alone at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. "I wish I could put a time on it, because then I would be looking forward to something."
Clark got off to a slow start this season, then missed eight games after his left ear nearly was severed by a slap shot from Alex Ovechkin. The 31-year-old team captain seemed to have been settling into a groove under interim coach Bruce Boudreau, notching two goals in four games before this latest setback.
Clark missed 16 games because of injury as a member of the Calgary Flames in 2001-02, but he doesn't remember ever being this frustrated.
"It's getting a little better, but I thought I would be playing at this point," Clark said.
Injured and scratched Capitals often watch games at Verizon Center from a luxury suite. Clark, however, pedals on a stationary bike in the locker room and watches on television.
"That way, I feel like I'm doing something to help the team," he said.Nylander Practices
Michael Nylander has missed three straight games because of an undisclosed ailment but joined his teammates for practice. The Capitals' second-leading scorer, with 25 points, wasn't assigned to a line but took part in drills and appeared unencumbered as he darted through traffic, dished out passes and fired shots at full speed.
"I can't say anything," he said after the hour-long session. "Talk to [the trainer] about this. I'm just trying to do what is necessary. Talk to the coach or the GM."
General Manager George McPhee has refused to discuss Nylander's injury but said Monday night that the center might return this weekend.Pothier Back in the Shuffle
Boudreau shuffled his defensive pairings yesterday, presumably opening the door for Brian Pothier to return to the lineup after missing the past two games as a healthy scratch.
Pothier was paired with John Erskine, Tom Poti skated with Jeff Schultz, and Shaone Morrisonn was partnered with Mike Green. Milan Jurcina, meantime, skated with seldom-used Steve Eminger.
After making an ill-advised pass that led to a goal last Friday in New Jersey, Pothier was scratched for Washington's victories Saturday and Monday, despite leading all Capitals defensemen in plus-minus (plus-four) and ranking second among defensemen in points (10).
"My play has dropped off," Pothier said, adding that he isn't nursing an injury. "I'm sorting through it right now."