Andrew Cassels's latest stop in the NHL almost ended before it began.

The 15-year veteran, and the Washington Capitals' most significant free agent addition, suffered a broken bone on the left side of his face when he was struck by a slap shot off the stick of former Capital Sergei Gonchar on Sept. 7, three days before the start of training camp. He said yesterday that he plans to be ready for opening night, Oct. 5 against Columbus.

And when Cassels returns, he'll do so with a visor affixed to his helmet.

"I get the stitches out [today] and put on some sort of visor for the rest of training camp," Cassels said yesterday, Day 4 of training camp, at Piney Orchard Ice Arena. "If I can get used to the visor, I'll probably keep it on."

Sporting a bruise under his left eye and stitches along his cheek, the 36-year-old center is recovering from the surgical procedure he underwent to repair a broken Zygomatic arch, the bone between the temple and ear.

Cassels expects to miss most, if not all, of training camp, but he is still expected to play center on the Capitals' top forward line, presumably alongside left wing Alexander Ovechkin.

"Any time you go to a new team you want to get on the ice and get to know the guys and learn about the guys you're going to be playing with," Cassels said. "It's a minor setback. It's something I've got to not think about it."

Fortin's Last Chance

Judging by the way he played yesterday, defenseman Jean-Francois Fortin realizes he has to make the most of his fourth opportunity to prove he belongs in the NHL.

"This is my last chance," said Fortin, 26, the Capitals' second-round draft pick in 1997. "If I don't make it this year, it's Europe next year. I have to beat out seven guys, because the only one sure of a spot is Brendan Witt."

Fortin entered camp as a long shot to earn a roster spot in Washington, where he played 36 games in 2001-02, 33 in 2002-03 and two in 2003-04. But an injury to Ivan Majesky, and a trade request by Witt, could work to his benefit.

Yesterday, Fortin not only was tough on the blueline, he scored a goal on a perfect placed wrist shot from the point.

Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said afterward Fortin was the best defenseman on the ice. Other team officials agreed.

"He's playing for a job," Hanlon said. "He's desperate. You get to a certain point. He has to do it now. Some people recognize it, and some people recognize it too late. It's obvious, J.F. has recognized it with time to spare."

Ovechkin's Debut

Ovechkin, the Capitals' No. 1 draft pick from 2004, will not accompany the team this weekend for preseason games in Carolina and Buffalo. The left wing will make his Capitals debut Wednesday against the Sabres at MCI Center.

"We made the decision that his first game would be Wednesday," Hanlon said. "We all know the players who are going to be here, and Alexander is included in that group. It will give him a couple more days to get adjusted in D.C., get himself situated and all the other things he needs to do."

A New Perspective

Defenseman Steve Eminger played center during yesterday's scrimmage. Hanlon said he was trying to help Eminger, an offensive defenseman, see things from a forward's point of view.

"It gives you a better perspective from a defenseman's standpoint," Hanlon said. "If you're going to make a pass to a centerman, it helps him know what he likes and where he likes a pass." . . .

Defenseman Clayton Barthel and goalie Daren Machesney were returned to their junior teams, Seattle of the Western Hockey League and Brampton of the Ontario Hockey League, respectively.