Sunday was a scheduled day off for the Washington Capitals, and so is today.

If that seems like a lot of time away from the rink so early in the season, it is. But it's also a critical part of the club's cutting-edge strength and conditioning program, which calls for the majority of workouts to be done where the game is played -- on the ice.

The first hint the Capitals were trying something new came during training camp in September when practices were longer, more intense and emphasized skating.

Some drills call for players to wear vests filled with 30 pounds of sand; others, like yesterday's practice at Piney Orchard Ice Arena, required nine players to remain on the ice for half an hour longer than their teammates for more skating.

The on-ice workouts have replaced the traditional free-weight and stationary bike sessions to which most, if not all, NHL teams still adhere.

"We thought the best thing for skating is skating," General Manager George McPhee said. "Jack is one of the best physiologists you'll find anywhere."

McPhee was referring to the program's mastermind, widely respected skating guru Jack Blatherwick, aka "Cardiac Jack," a longtime associate of the U.S. Olympic team, the Capitals and McPhee.

Blatherwick schedules the frequent days off, but he also makes certain they are well deserved.

"The days off are intended so that we are well rested," Capitals captain Jeff Halpern said. "We're putting a lot of faith in Jack's programs. Hockey is the one sport where you don't train on the surface you play on. Jack's program is different."

Veteran defenseman Brendan Witt said: "I feel fresher. I like it. Who knows? Maybe what we were doing for 10 years wasn't the right way to do it."

Capitals Coach Glen Hanlon said the emphasis on skating is particularly important for his team because of its many inexperienced players and the NHL's new rules, which reward swifter skaters.

"We believe what we are doing is right," Hanlon said. "Maybe it isn't for everybody.

"If we want our young guys to be better skaters, we feel its better for them to be on the ice."

Bourque Takes a Big Hit

Capitals prospect Chris Bourque was carried by stretcher off the ice Sunday after an illegal hit in an AHL game between the Hershey (Pa.) Bears and Hamilton (Ont.) Bulldogs.

Bourque, 19, also had his neck immobilized, but does not have a spinal injury. McPhee said Bourque appears to have suffered a concussion. He will reevaluated later this week.

"He got his bell rung, but he's going to be okay," McPhee said.

Bourque, the son of Hall of Fame defenseman Ray Bourque and selected in the second round with the 33rd overall pick of the 2004 draft, was hit in the second period by Hamilton's Johnathan Aitken, who was ejected for deliberately attempting to injure an opponent and is facing a likely suspension. Bourque, who is 5 feet 7 and 177 pounds, has two goals and nine assists in 10 games for the Bears.

Olie the Offensive Machine

Olie Kolzig's contributions have not been limited to his impressive play in net. The veteran goalie also is chipping in offensively. He leads all NHL goalies in points with two assists and has as many, or more, points than 11 of his teammates (not including backup goalie Brent Johnson). Both of Kolzig's points were awarded as second assists after goals by rookie Alex Ovechkin.

"It's not what I'm going after," Kolzig said. "I just helped get it to number eight, and watched him do his thing."

Bradley, Zubrus Still Ailing

Forwards Matt Bradley and Dainius Zubrus each missed practice again yesterday with groin muscle strains. Bradley left Saturday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second period and did not return; Zubrus departed in the third. They are listed as day-to-day. . . .

Johnson, whose leg pads, gloves and helmet are Phoenix Coyotes' brick red, will soon look like he actually plays in Washington. The goalie, who was claimed off waivers last month, has new Capitals color-coordinated equipment and a custom-painted mask on order. . . .

Last weekend's Capitals-Panthers game, postponed because of Hurricane Wilma, will be played Dec. 1 at BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Fla. Florida's home rink lost power and sustained minor damage.