Capitals Getting Healthy

Washington captain Chris Clark, right, has missed the last 18 games with a severely strained groin muscle.
Washington captain Chris Clark, right, has missed the last 18 games with a severely strained groin muscle. (By Bruce Bennett -- Getty Images)
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By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 13, 2008

Chris Clark practiced again yesterday and said afterward that he'll be a game-time decision when the Washington Capitals host the Philadelphia Flyers this afternoon.

The team captain suffered a severely strained groin muscle on Nov. 28 and has missed the past 18 games, the longest layoff of his eight-year NHL career.

"This is the worst injury I've ever had because I can't tell if it's healed or not," Clark said, adding that his decision will be a tough one because he hasn't pushed himself since returning to practice last week.

"Eventually, I have to see where it is," the rugged right wing said. "But then again, maybe I will wait. I don't know yet."

Clark has been skating on the second line alongside center Michael Nylander and Alexander Semin, who has shifted back to left wing, his preferred position. The top line has been Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Viktor Kozlov.

"You're always worried about a setback," Coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He has to feel confident that he's ready to play."

General Manager George McPhee echoed Boudreau's cautious approach, saying, "We can't mess this up."

With defenseman Tom Poti (shoulder) and backup goaltender Brent Johnson (sprained left knee) also on the verge of rejoining the Capitals, the team figures to be healthier than it's been in weeks -- and that couldn't come at a more important time.

Including today's matinee matchup against the Flyers, the Capitals will play seven times in 12 days, a grueling stretch that could determine their direction over the second half of the season. They've won four of the past five; Daniel Briere (17 goals) and the Flyers are 6-1-1 in their last eight after falling to Boston, 4-3, yesterday in overtime.

Poti, the Capitals' ice time leader, has been hampered for much of the season by a limited range of motion in his shoulder. Should Poti return from a three-game absence, that means spare defenseman Steve Eminger will be squeezed out of the lineup after making back-to-back appearances for the first time this season.

Johnson also rejoined the Capitals after a short conditioning stint with the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League. He turned aside 37 shots in the Bears' 3-1 loss at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Friday night. With Johnson expected to be back on the bench, Frederic Cassivi was reassigned to the Bears.

Wingers Quintin Laing (bruised leg) and Matt Pettinger (undisclosed injury) also returned to practice yesterday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. Laing was hurt blocking consecutive shots against Colorado but is expected to skate on the checking line with David Steckel and Boyd Gordon. Pettinger, meantime, likely will be a healthy scratch. Tomas Fleischmann could be scratched, too, if Clark comes back.

Boudreau dismissed the notion that some of the Capitals' momentum has been sapped after playing only once over the last seven days.

"We got a rest in for what's coming up," Boudreau said. "We know we have an awful lot of games in a short amount of time from here until the end of the year, other than the all-star break. It was good for a lot of guys to have some time to heal."

Capitals Note: Defenseman Brian Pothier (concussion) did not practice and is expected to miss his third consecutive game.

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