Holding Brooks Laich out of the Capitals’ lineup is like keeping Alex Ovechkin on the bench for a four-minute power play.
Essentially, you need to bolt his skates to the floor boards.
Laich will sit out his 10th straight game when the Capitals host the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight at Verizon Center [7 p.m., CSN, 106.7-FM, 1500-AM], but if Tuesday’s morning skate was any indication, the Caps’ long wait for the multi-dimensional 29-year-old forward could end soon.
Sidelined since the start of training camp with a groin injury suffered during the NHL lockout, Laich skated on his own before Tuesday’s practice and remained on the ice long enough to skate with teammates.
“He said he feels a lot better, he looks a lot better,” Capitals coach Adam Oates said. “And it’s one of those situations where you have to trust the trainers and doctors in terms of evaluation.
“How soon? I don’t know. Sometimes it lingers and sometimes it might just go to the next level and feel great.
“I think he’s really close to contact. I can only speak from experience. I had a couple groin injuries. You feel like it’s lingering and then all of a sudden one day you feel – ‘wow, it’s that much better. I can take contact.’ Once you get over that hurdle you’re fine.”
Laich first injured his groin in mid-November while playing for the Kloten Flyers of the Swiss League. He skated with other locked-out Capitals prior to the Christmas holiday, but was held off the ice when training camp opened in mid-January.
On the first day of camp, Laich declined to address the severity of his injury or a timetable for his return. He’s already missed more games this season than he has in the past five years with the Caps.
In fact, since joining the Capitals full-time in 2005-06, Laich had missed just 13 games in the seven seasons before this one.
“Should I be more level-headed than I have been in the past?” Laich asked himself on Jan. 13. “The answer is yes. But it’s hard when your brain doesn’t really work like that.
“As a competitor all you think about is the competition. You don’t think about taking it easy now. It sort of takes outside influence from other people to remind you of certain things.”
Oates said he loves that competitive spirit in Laich, whom he named one of the team’s captains at the start of the season. But he also hopes he shows discretion and does not leave himself vulnerable to re-injury.
“I would hope every guy likes to play, but he’s dying,” Oates said. “Nobody wants to miss time at the start of the year and he's a big part of our team. We miss him.”