Capitals happy for Olympic break

Alex Ovechkin is one of five Capitals who will play in the Vancouver Olympics. The team reconvenes for practice Feb. 24.
Alex Ovechkin is one of five Capitals who will play in the Vancouver Olympics. The team reconvenes for practice Feb. 24. (John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post)
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By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 15, 2010

A half-hour after Saturday's shootout loss in St. Louis, Washington Capitals defenseman Mike Green emerged limping from the visitors' dressing room at Scottrade Center.

The defenseman had notched a pair of assists while logging a season-high 33 minutes 48 seconds of ice time in the Capitals' final game before the two-week break for the Winter Olympics. And, like many of his teammates, he was exhausted, battered and drained emotionally by an unrelenting schedule that's seen them play 22 games since Jan. 1.

"This is going to be good for us," said Green, who is still feeling the effects of a bruised right knee he suffered Jan. 29 against Florida. "I have some bumps and bruises that need some rest."

As Green hobbled toward the team bus, Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, Semyon Varlamov, Nicklas Backstrom and Tomas Fleischmann -- the five Capitals who will represent their countries in Vancouver -- scurried around, gathering up equipment, bubble wrapping sticks and stuffing oversized red bags with rolls of tape.

There is no rest for Washington's weary Olympians; on Sunday morning, they boarded a flight to Vancouver for a 12-nation tournament that will rival the intensity of the NHL playoffs.

The 18 others returned to Washington before scattering across North America. Some were scheduled to travel south in search of sun and palm trees. Others planned to visit family. All, however, welcome a respite from the mental and physical toll exerted by their pressure-packed pursuit of Pittsburgh's league-record 17 consecutive victories, a chase that came up three wins short.

"Oh yeah," Coach Bruce Boudreau said, "we need this break."

At the start of the winning streak, Boudreau had virtually a full roster. By the end of Saturday's 4-3 loss, the Capitals' third in a row, four players had been lost to various injuries after Matt Bradley left the game with a suspected head injury.

None of their ailments are serious, though, and Boudreau said he expects everyone to be healthy when the team reconvenes for practice Feb. 24 at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.

"The break is coming at a good time for a lot of guys," said defenseman John Erskine, who has been nursing a sore shoulder and is taking his family to Disney World. "We went on that 14-game winning streak, and that took a lot out of us, physically and emotionally."

While Erskine heads to Orlando, Brooks Laich is going north, to his home in Regina, Saskatchewan, to visit family and watch his 24-year-old brother, Jordan, compete in the senior hockey playoffs.

"I'm going to skate with my brother's team, the Bienfait Coalers," Laich said. "I haven't been on the ice with my brother since I was 15 years old."

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