Capitals back at practice after using the Olympic break to get healthy

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post staff writer
Thursday, February 25, 2010;

The Washington Capitals returned from 10 days off mentally refreshed. More important, though, the team's non-Olympians reported to the team's Arlington headquarters much healthier.

"It's not like training camp, where guys come into camp in shape," Coach Bruce Boudreau said after an up-tempo, hour-long session that ended with many of his players hunched over, gasping for air. "A lot of these guys didn't do nothing for 10 days."

Asked why the first practice back was so tough, he cracked, "That was the easy one."

All of the Capitals who were injured before -- or during -- the team's last game, a 4-3 loss in St. Louis on Feb. 13, were back on the ice Wednesday, the first day teams could hold practice during the NHL's 17-day hiatus for the Vancouver Games.

That list included Matt Bradley, who left the Blues game after Cam Janssen dropped him with a elbow to the head. Tom Poti and Jason Chimera were also there after missing time with groin-muscle injuries.

"I was a little disoriented," Bradley said of Janssen's controversial hit. "But I was fine a little bit after that, and I was fine the next day. I felt great out there today.

"I just got my bell rung," he added, before cracking, "I'm a good bleeder and I can recover quick from getting my bell rung, I guess."

Although Bradley said he does not believe he suffered a concussion, the incident in St. Louis marked the second time in two months the checking-line winger was forced to leave a game with an apparent head injury. The previous incident occurred Dec. 5 in Philadelphia after he was sucker-punched by Daniel Carcillo.

The NHL suspended the Flyers fighter four games for that punch, but it remains unclear what the league plans to do with Janssen, who stopped by the visitors' dressing room at Scottrade Center to apologize directly to Bradley. If the NHL does punish Janssen, an announcement will be made by the league prior to the Blues' game Tuesday.

"He said he thought the puck was in my feet," Bradley said of his conversation with Janssen, who is a repeat offender.

Bradley declined to say whether he felt Janssen deserved a suspension, but he was certain the hit was illegal.

"It was late, obviously," Bradley said.

Bradley wasn't the only player to benefit from the time off. Although the Capitals sit atop the NHL standings, they skidded into the break on a three-game losing streak. As the players ambled out of the arena in St. Louis, several said they felt drained from the pressure of keeping alive a 14-game winning streak and also were physically worn down from playing seven games in the first 13 days of the month.

A week and a half off, however, seemed to have fixed much of what was ailing the Capitals, judging from the smiles and whooping and hollering that could be heard as the players hit the ice for practice.

Poti had missed the games in Ottawa and St. Louis. But after a week in Cape Cod, he was back on the ice with 16 of his teammates.

"Feels good," he said. "I'm ready to go. I probably could have played in St. Louis if it was a playoff game. We have plenty of time to get back into top shape and get our hands back because we're planning on going for a long time."

Chimera, who had missed three consecutive games, also skated. He left the ice before sprints at the end, but the team expects him to be ready for its next game, Wednesday in Buffalo.

Mike Green, meanwhile, was able to walk without a limp for the first time since a knee-on-knee collision late last month.

"I feel like a new man," he said. "All the bumps and bruises are gone and my mind is fresh and that's important. In the long run, it's going to be good for a lot of us."

As Green spoke, a television across the dressing room had the United States-Switzerland game on the screen. With that game in progress and the Alex Ovechkin-led Russians scheduled to take on Canada a few hours later, none of the Capitals stuck around for long.

"I've got to get out of here," Green said as he hurried out of the room.

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