It’s probably one season later than he wanted, but Capitals left wing Brooks Laich will be suiting up for his 600th NHL game tonight when the Caps visit the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.
Laich, 30, began his NHL career by playing one game for the Ottawa Senators in the 2003-04 season. He was then traded to the Capitals for right wing Peter Bondra and a second-round pick in 2005.
Nearly 10 years later, Laich has 122 goals and 168 assists for 290 points in his career with the Capitals.
It’s fair to say this has been the most frustrating year of Laich’s career. Since the start of last season, which began with a groin injury that required surgery, he has missed more games  than he’s played  and his offensive production has taken a serious hit.
In nine games last season Laich managed one goal and three assists. In 33 games this season he has five goals, three assists and is a minus-7.
He's convinced better days are ahead of him.
“I feel a lot more relaxed now,” he said. “At the start of the season I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. I felt healthy, but I wasn’t sure if I could make it through five games and then have this thing flare up.
“Now that we’ve found the source of the problem -- that it was coming from inflammation from a nerve in my spine -- I’m a lot more relaxed and at ease because we know that if the pain creeps back how to address it and cut it off quickly.”
Laich scored a shorthanded goal in the Caps’ 4-3 loss to the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night and will need to continue scoring to retain his role as a top-six forward, something the Caps counted on when they signed him to a six-year, $27 million contract extension that runs through the 2016-17 season.
With seven games in succession, Laich said he’s starting to feel the way he did before his injury.
“I watched tapes from my last couple games and it looks like my skating is good,” he said. “I’ve got bursts and can change speed and make cuts. I feel great physically. Now I just want to produce.”
Grubauer to start: Rookie goaltender Philipp Grubauer [6-2-5, 2.06, .936] is scheduled to get the start for the Caps. Sergei Bobrovsky [13-11-2, 2.58, .915] is slated to go for Columbus.