During lockout, playing there proved invaluable

The coach lectured his players, and Mathieu Perreault tried his best to understand. While he speaks two languages fluently, Finnish is not one of them.

Turning to a teammate, Perreault asked what was said.

"Oh -- on the forecheck two guys [go]" were his only instructions translated into English. The coach had talked for 10 minutes.

That was life for a lot of NHL players who chose to play in Europe during the league's four-month lockout. Perreault played seven games for HIFK Helsinki in Finland's SM-liiga and was one of nine Capitals players to sign with a European club during the lockout.

"I was clueless," Perreault said. "I was just like whatever -- I'll just have to go out there and play."

But he didn't consider the venture a waste of time. Perreault knew he was going to play big minutes for HIFK and see time on the power play. Primarily a role player in North America, he could test himself. There also was a downtown apartment and a nice team-issued car. Perreault even played with two other French-Canadians -- Dallas Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas and former NHL center Joel Perrault.

Teammate Eric Fehr had a similar experience in Finland with the club HPK Hameenlinna. Coming off another shoulder surgery, he needed the ice time and used it wisely with 13 goals and 12 assists in 21 games. Fehr enjoyed his time so much that he would have stayed had the NHL canceled its season.

"The weather was similar to Canada -- it's just you never see the sun," Fehr joked. "That was the one depressing part. We literally went a month without seeing the sun. It'd rise at 10 or 11 and set by 3 or 4 o'clock. That was tough. But the hockey was great, and my teammates were great."

Things were a little easier for Brooks Laich, who played in Switzerland, where almost everyone speaks English along with German and French. Maybe he couldn't understand television shows, but it was more than enough just to be on the ice.

"I was still playing hockey, so I think it was easier for me than somebody like Matt Hendricks, who wasn't playing," Laich said. "I had games and practices, and I was around teammates, and I had a purpose to come to the rink every day. I could improve my game. I was very fortunate, and I made some friends that I'll be friends with the rest of my life."

Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin remained teammates -- they just played together in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League with Dynamo Moscow. For Ovechkin, he could surround himself with familiar faces. He was home for New Year's Day, the most important holiday in Russia, for the first time in 13 years and got engaged to girlfriend and tennis star Maria Kirilenko. He arrived back in Washington ready to continue a season he already had started.

"You would think that those players are going to be ahead of those players that haven't been playing," Caps general manager George McPhee said. "I guess for that reason I kind wish that they had all been playing."