Clark Returns to Caps, Injuries Still a Problem

Center Michael Nylander, the Caps' second-leading scorer, has been hampered by a shoulder injury and was held out of practice yesterday. His ice time was limited Saturday.
Center Michael Nylander, the Caps' second-leading scorer, has been hampered by a shoulder injury and was held out of practice yesterday. His ice time was limited Saturday. (By Bruce Bennett -- Getty Images)
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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Washington Capitals captain Chris Clark returned to practice after missing almost six weeks because of a groin muscle injury, a sure sign that the rugged right wing is closer to rejoining the lineup. But the other injury news was not nearly as encouraging for the Capitals, who likely will remain short-handed as they open a crucial five-game homestand tomorrow against the Colorado Avalanche.

Veteran center Michael Nylander, who has been playing with a shoulder injury, was held out of practice yesterday while wing Matt Pettinger left the ice after just a few minutes. Coach Bruce Boudreau referred all questions about them to General Manager George McPhee, who was unavailable to comment. Later in the day, a Capitals spokesman said both are expected to play against the Avalanche, but he did not provide any additional information on either player's condition, which did little to quash concerns that Nylander's shoulder is worse than the team has disclosed.

Also absent from practice were Tom Poti and Brian Pothier, the Capitals' No. 1 and No. 4 defensemen. Poti, the team's leader in ice time, has missed two games because of an upper body injury that's held him out of the lineup twice this season, while Pothier is believed to have suffered his second concussion in a year when he was crushed along the boards Thursday in Boston by Milan Lucic. Both are officially listed as day-to-day because of upper body injuries.

"Every team has got these injuries," Boudreau said of Poti and Pothier. "I don't know a team that's not missing two or three guys. I think they are closer than they are further away. They just weren't on the ice today."

The status of winger Alexander Semin (tailbone) and goaltender Brent Johnson (left knee sprain) also remained unclear, although both practiced. If all goes well today, they could be cleared to play tomorrow. Semin has been sidelined the past two games and 19 total because of injuries, and Johnson has missed four straight. Just in case Johnson is not ready, minor leaguer Frederic Cassivi has remained in Washington.

"I still feel it when I'm getting back up into my stance," Johnson said. "I just have to get used to seeing a puck and getting my reflexes back."

The team's biggest concern, according to a league source, is the condition of Nylander. It's believed their second-leading scorer (35 points) has been hampered by a rotator cuff injury for about a month and that he might eventually need surgery if the shoulder does not respond to treatment. The 35-year-old played a season-low 13 minutes 15 seconds in Saturday's 5-4 overtime victory in Montreal, down from his average of 19:07.

As for Clark, he said he doesn't plan to return against Colorado and that he isn't 100 percent, but he's pleased to be making progress.

"It's not quite where it should be, but it's a lot better than it has been," Clark said. "It will be ready when it's ready, but sometime on this homestand will be nice. I couldn't have [practiced] this time last week."

Capitals Notes: Winger Ben Clymer, who played two seasons for the Capitals before being demoted to the minor league Hershey (Pa.) Bears in October, was placed on reentry waivers yesterday, according to league sources. He'll clear today at noon if another NHL team does not claim him.

-- Tarik El-Bashir

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