Mike Ribeiro returned to the Washington Capitals’ training facility in Arlington on Monday morning for his first skate with teammates in several weeks. While he kept up a modest weight-training and running program during the lockout, the veteran center hasn’t been on the ice all that much, except to skate with his 12-year-old son.
“I’ve been pretty good,” Ribeiro joked. “I’ve been gaining confidence skating with the kids, scoring on the goalie.”
But Ribeiro, the Capitals’ key offseason acquisition, acknowledged the difficulties he and his teammates face as they ratchet up their intensity mentally and physically for the shortened 2012-13 season, likely a 48-game schedule that will start on Jan. 19.
Those challenges will vary, of course, considering that 13 of Washington’s players have not played a single game in eight to nine months. The other 11 — including captain and star left wing Alex Ovechkin — have anywhere from five to 35 games to their credit since the lockout started. Ribeiro, 33, hasn’t played since April 5.
“I’m going to have to be from zero to 100” mph, Ribeiro said. “My game, it’s not about physical; for me, it’s more about mental and how to approach games and get ready mentally.
“Hopefully those guys that have been playing [elsewhere], like Ovi, can come back and I can give him the puck and he can score,” Ribeiro added.
Unlike a typical two-week training camp in September, players are gathering in Washington this week with disparate levels of conditioning, prompting Capitals strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish to alter his usual plans.
As players trickle back into town ahead of camp — which will likely begin sometime this weekend, pending ratification of the new collective bargaining agreement — Nemish will play catch-up.
He, like the rest of the Capitals’ staff, wasn’t permitted to speak with players during the lockout, so he will gather the details of their on- and off-ice workouts over the past several months. From there, Nemish will work with the athletic training staff and Coach Adam Oates to create individual training plans.
“For some guys, it’s a taper week for them; they’ve got to back down from what they’ve been doing and get ready to play and practice on the ice. For others, we’ve got to slowly build them back up,” Nemish said. “Injuries are a concern, especially right off the bat, when you’re ramping it up very quickly to play those first few games.”
Those who played consistently during the lockout, such as Ovechkin (31 games) and center Nicklas Backstrom (19 games) with Dynamo Moscow in the Kontinental Hockey League, will likely be in better game shape than their counterparts. But they may also have a few more bumps and bruises, Nemish said.
Jay Beagle, along with John Carlson and Jason Chimera, spent the majority of the lockout training in Washington. They ramped up their on-ice conditioning efforts in the last three weeks, skating five to six days a week, but Beagle says their workouts couldn’t make up for the rhythm of a game.
“It will be good once we get guys back, obviously, and we can get some team drills going and some game-like situation drills,” Beagle said, adding that they tried to increase the physicality a bit while Jeff Halpern, a New York Rangers forward and Maryland native, was in town. “A lot of hitting drills, some were a little dicey but we didn’t get injured. We were playing king of the ring and stuff like that to get our heads around hitting, protecting the puck and working along the boards and stuff.”
Carlson played down the suggestion that those who didn’t play during the lockout were at a disadvantage.
“I think everyone’s probably in the same boat,” Carlson said. “I think if you play overseas, from what I’ve heard, it’s a lot different, too. It’s gonna be adapting for everyone. It doesn’t matter what you’re doing.”
Given the compressed timeframe NHL teams are facing — going from the start of camp to a season in seven days — it’s unlikely there will be time to play even a single preseason game. But those circumstances are beyond control, and Nemish says the Capitals will make the best of the time they have.
“You can bag skate all you want, but it’s playing games that makes the difference,” Nemish said. “It seems like we’re not going to have any preseason games, so you’re going right into the fire right away. It’s going to be tough.”