Brooks Laich’s days on the Capitals’ injury list appear to be nearing an end.
Laich spent Friday morning carefully testing his groin on the ice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, pushing himself with long, steady strides, then dislodging a net and pushing it the length of the ice.
In the coming days the 29-year-old forward and locker room leader is expected to be cleared for contact and begin full practices with the Caps.
“We’ll see how he responds,” Capitals coach Adam Oates told reporters on Saturday.
“Some [practice] drills have body contact, where he can let loose and bump guys. It’s not major hits or anything like that. It’s a slow process.”
Laich has been sidelined since the start of training camp with a groin strain first suffered in November when he was playing in Switzerland. If he responds well to full contact practices next week in Florida, he could return to the lineup Feb. 17 against the Rangers or Feb. 21 against the Devils.
In other injury news, Tom Poti is expected to be a game-time decision tonight against the Florida Panthers with an upper body injury. If Poti is cleared to play Oates could opt for seven defensemen tonight.
If that happens, forward Marcus Johansson could find himself a healthy scratch for the third time in 12 games.
Johansson, who recorded 14 goals and 46 points last season, has just one goal and four shots and is a team-worst minus-7 in nine games this season.
“His confidence might be one of the problems with his play,” Oates said. “We need better execution and we didn’t get enough in Pittsburgh.
“I know he scored some goals last year and that’s obviously what he wants and what he’s focusing on. I’m not worried about that. Skate, be a physical presence, forecheck and goals will come.”
Getting late early: The Capitals woke up Saturday morning five points out of a playoff spot, but they’ll need to climb past six teams to get into playoff position. That is no easy task when you consider that a minimum of two points will be awarded to a team above them every night for the remainder of the season since all games are between conference rivals
“It's not getting easier for us,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “Our window to try and win games to get ourselves back in a playoff position is slowly diminishing.
“As a result, we've got to try and string together the same type of win streak as we just had losing streak. It is a tough, tough thing to come back, but I believe in the guys in this room, we believe that we can do it, and we're gonna go forward with the confidence that we can make the playoffs."
Loose pucks: The Panthers, coached by Kevin Dineen, are 3-0-1 after losing five of their first six games. The Capitals are allowing 3.73 goals per game while scoring just 2.27 goals per game, the largest discrepancy in the league. Former Capitals forward Tomas Fleischman, who spent parts of seven seasons in D.C., leads the Panthers with nine points.