Crab thrown onto ice at Capitals game in Baltimore
One week after assembling his players for the first day of training camp, Capitals coach Adam Oates finally got a chance to see Brooks Laich, Mikhail Grabovski and Troy Brouwer on the same sheet of ice on Thursday.
“That’s where they’re penciled in,” Oates said of what he hopes will be his second line when the regular season opens Oct. 1 in Chicago. “Obviously, we were a little behind the 8-ball with Grabo and Brooksie, but it was great to see them out there and hopefully they’ll be back tomorrow morning with no problems.”
For Laich, it was his first full practice since missing all but nine games last season with groin injuries. On the first day of training campLaich left the ice after just 10 minutes with a left hip flexor injury.
Grabovski’s arrival in Washington was delayed by visa issues that kept him in Toronto. Laich and Grabovski are not expected to be in the lineup Friday night when the Caps face the Blackhawks at VerizonCenter, but both could make their preseason debuts Monday night in Boston or Wednesday night at home against Nashville.
Oates said he’ll be more involved in monitoring Laich’s injury after seeing him struggle to get back in the lineup last season, only to pull himself out.
“It’s nobody’s fault,” Oates said. “They’re weird injuries. I think this was a little tweak, maybe some compensation, and because of his history we’re just going to make sure we handle it with kid gloves.”
Laich agreed, saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Laich, 30, and Grabovski, 29, each have something to prove this season.
After carving a reputation as an iron man capable of playing through any injury, Laich, now 30, said he was humbled by his own mortality last season.
“It’s so much more fun to play hockey than to watch it,” he said. “It’s a big, big part of my life. It’s a privilege to play and when it’s taken away it’s tough.
“You learn an appreciation of how fragile it is to be here and I was very humbled. I think I’m coming back as a better player. I think the best is yet to come and I expect the best year of my career.”
Grabovski, who signed a one-year, $3 million contract with the Caps on Aug. 23, is also trying to turn over a new leaf after a rocky exit from Toronto.
The native of Belarus harshly criticized Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle for using him on the fourth line last season, calling him an ‘idiot” while limiting his production to a career-low nine goals and seven assists.
In his two previous seasons in Toronto Grabovski averaged 26 goals and 28 assists and was rewarded with a five-year, $27.5 million contract extension. This summer the Leafs bought out the final four years of that contract and that’s what set Grabovski off in an interview with TSN.
“Everybody looks at the bad words but I say a lot of good words, too,” Grabovski said. “We’re human and sometimes that’s good. For me, I want to be better than last year.”
Oates said he flew to Los Angeles to talk with Grabovski this summer, sharing his thoughts on how he would be used in Washington.
Now a Capital, Grabovski softened his stance on Carlyle, saying he helped him become a better defensive player.
“You know, it was a great experience for me, too, last year because I little bit struggle before with defensive [play],” he said. “After Randy I played better defensively. The new coach [Oates] likes more skills, more offensive plays. That’s what I can do best. I’m really excited.”
Laich said that if Oates keeps the trio together it could be a dominant line.
“We’re going to be very tough to play against,” Laich said. “You’ve got three guys who can skate, you’ve got size on the wings and speed in the middle. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be a force on every shift.”