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Ovechkin sits as Caps return to the ice

by John McGourty / NHL.com
ARLINGTON, Va. -- Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin skipped Thursday morning's practice, but don't be alarmed Capitals fans. There's nothing wrong with him, team officials said. It's not unusual for Ovechkin to skip a practice, beat writers reported.

The Capitals, the second seed in the East, will host the Pittsburgh Penguins, the East's fourth seed, Saturday (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS) in Game 1 of their semifinal series.

Thursday's practice was the first for the Capitals since their 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers Tuesday that ended their seven-game Stanley Cup Playoff Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, so the players worked more on getting loose than strategy.

The Capitals performed a group of routine drills following a brief, brisk, but not taxing, warm-up skate. They practiced breakouts from their defensive zone, followed by lone players taking a long route around a cone at the far blue line and skating into the offensive zone for a long shot on goal.

The third drill had two forwards, trailed by two defensemen, entering the zone and one taking a shot, after which the forwards screened the goalie for a long shot from a defenseman. The team then split in two and ran regroup drills designed to launch a second attack after a foray into the offensive zone was cleared to center ice. Next, they practiced three-on-two attacks into the offensive zone. The Capitals then expanded that drill into five-on-five play in the offensive zone, pretty much a one-zone scrimmage.

Washington Capitals Playoff GearIn short, the Capitals started with simple drills and then increased the complexity. The drills sharpened the Capitals in their defensive-zone breakouts, their neutral-zone regroups, setting screens, and getting passes to the open man in the slot. Players on the defensive side got practice in clearing the zone under odd-man pressure.

Defenseman Mike Green said a Penguins-specific video session is scheduled Friday to help the Capitals make the transition from playing the Rangers to preparing for Pittsburgh's different type of offense.

The Capitals got the best of the Penguins during the regular season, posting a 3-0-1 record, in which they outscored Pittsburgh, 18-11. The Capitals beat the Penguins, 4-3, in Pittsburgh on Oct. 16. and again, 6-3, on Jan. 14 at Mellon Arena. The Capitals returned home to defeat Pittsburgh, 5-2, on Washington's Birthday and then lost March 8, 4-3, on Sidney Crosby's shootout goal.
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