Laich finally seeing 'light at the end of the tunnel'

Laich finally seeing 'light at the end of the tunnel'
December 20, 2013, 12:00 pm
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Nov 23, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Washington Capitals center Brooks Laich (21) shoots against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre.

(Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Capitals center/left wing Brooks Laich says he sees a light at the end of the long, dark tunnel he’s been traveling for just about a year now.

The Caps’ 30-year-old veteran has missed the past nine games with a recurring groin injury that was first diagnosed during last year’s NHL lockout. He says he is “virtually” pain free and is hoping to return to the lineup Monday night against Bruce Boudreau and the Anaheim Ducks. It is the first game Laich is eligible to play after coming off long-term injury reserve.

“I need four, five, six solid days of practice and really push it and exert myself before I say I’m ready,” Laich said.

Thursday was Laich’s fourth consecutive day on the ice and he said it was his best in terms of explosiveness and feeling just as strong at the end of practice as he did in the beginning. Laich said he took some contact in that practice and will need some more days of contact drills before declaring himself ready to go.

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With the Caps playing tonight in Carolina and at home Saturday night against the Devils, Laich is hoping a couple more days at Kettler will be enough to get him into the lineup on Monday night. If not, he’ll set his sights on next Friday night at home against the Rangers.

“Every day I’m getting closer and closer,” Laich said. “If it keeps progressing like this I’ll start to be very excited. At the same point I’m trying to remain patient and calm about it and keep a level head. But I’m certainly close to being pain free.”

A week ago, Laich underwent alternative therapy that he believes pinpointed the source of the pain he’s been feeling since mid-November. When he underwent the treatments he was told he would feel the benefits of it for three to five days.

“We’re past that and making leaps and bounds every day, so we see no reason to keep up with that treatment,” Laich said. “The initial thing worked and now it’s letting it work itself out and this is as close to pain free as I’ve felt. I’m really, really exacted about this.”

Capitals coach Adam Oates has heard this optimism from Laich before and appears to be taking a very cautious approach this time around, saying he wants Laich to stay in the lineup once he returns. In 25 games this season Laich has four goals and two assists and is a minus-9.

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Laich underwent abdominal surgery last season and missed all but nine games. He had some residual pain during training camp and when he returned to the lineup this season he appeared to lack the jump he had before the lockout. After his most significant progress in months, Laich said he’s optimistic he’s heading in the right direction.

“It’s just a relief,” he said. “After a long time of searching it seems like we’ve identified the actual source of the problem. The whole process, I’ve had days where I was marginally getting better, but couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. This time it’s come so far so fast that I really, truly believe we’ve found the source of the problem and corrected it and can further prevent it from occurring again.”