Caps were pulling for Carlson
Including last year’s playoffs, Adam Oates has coached 95 games for the Capitals. Brooks Laich has been available for 35 of them.
“I haven’t had him,” Oates said Thursday after announcing Laich will return to the lineup tonight against the Carolina Hurricanes [7 p.m., CSN] after missing 14 of the last 15 games with groin-related pain. “He’s a key cog and when he’s playing he gets a lot of responsibilities.”
The problem, of course, has been keeping Laich in the lineup. After playing just nine games last season Laich appeared in the first 25 games for the Caps this season and struggled, recording just four goals and two assists and a minus-10 rating.
He reported pain following a Nov. 27 loss to Ottawa and missed the next 11 games while he tried to determine the source of his pain and how to treat it.
Laich returned to the lineup Dec. 23 against the Ducks and played 13:23 but woke up with pain the next day and has not played since, missing the past three games.
“He felt a hundred percent [against Anaheim],” Oates said. “We wouldn’t have put him in. Afterward he didn’t feel great but it didn’t affect him during the game.
“We talked [Thursday] morning again and he feels great. Tomorrow [Friday] we don’t know, but he’s playing because he feels great.”
Laich, who will take Aaron Volpatti’s spot in the lineup as a fourth-line left wing alongside center Jay Beagle and Tom Wilson, said he’s more excited than anxious about returning tonight.
“I was flying around this morning with a smile on my face. Coming to the rink knowing that I’m playing, it’s a pretty exciting day. Feeling normal out on the ice and to be able to do everything I want is pretty exciting for me.”
Laich said Wednesday’s practice was the first time in six weeks that he felt “natural” and he knew 10 minutes into Thursday’s skate that he was ready.
“The jump was back, the explosion is back. I can’t wait to play.”
Here’s how the Caps are expected to look tonight against the Canes, who ended a five-game losing streak Tuesday night with 5-4 win over the Canadiens:
Marcus Johansson – Nicklas Backstrom – Troy Brouwer
Eric Fehr – Mikhail Grabovski – Alex Ovechkin
Jason Chimera – Marty Erat – Joel Ward
Brooks Laich – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson
Karl Alzner – John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov – Mike Green
John Erskine – Steve Oleksy
Philipp Grubauer – Braden Holtby
Extras: Michal Neuvirth, Aaron Volpatti, Alex Urbom