What's wrong with the Brooks Laich, Caps' second line?

What's wrong with the Brooks Laich, Caps' second line?
November 21, 2013, 3:45 pm
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Caps' loss to Penguins "was pretty brutal"

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Scan through the Comments section at the bottom of each of these posts every day and, inevitably, you’ll read what every Capitals fan has been asking after every game season.

What the heck is up with the second line?

It hasn’t seemed to matter whether they’ve played with Mikhail Grabovski, Marcus Johansson or Marty Erat. Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer have been unable to get anything going offensively this season.

Through 22 games, Laich has just three goals, two assists and is a team-worst [and career-worst] minus-10. Brouwer has five goals and one assist, but five of those six points are on the power play.

And since Marty Erat [six assists] remains without a goal through 22 games, the Capitals’ second line has accounted for just five even-strength goals all season – three by Laich and one each by Brouwer and Grabovski.

[RELATED: Does Adam Oates have a right to be concerned about Washington's effort?]

“We’re still searching for our identity as a line,” said Laich, who replayed Wednesday night’s 4-0 loss to the Penguins following the game and watched it again Thursday morning in search of answers. “Our first line is a rush line. Our third line is more of a cycle, chip-and-chase line, and we’re trying to figure out who we are.

“We’ve kind of had musical chairs at center. We’re still trying to find our chemistry. We know how each other plays and we expect a lot out of ourselves and it’s been frustrating we haven’t been able to put together a string of consistent nights.”

Last year, Brouwer posted 19 goals and 14 assists in 47 games, due in large part to the craftiness of center Mike Ribeiro. Erat scored 16 or more goals in eight of his previous nine seasons in Nashville before coming to the Capitals.

But since Erat joined the second line eight games ago, the trio has produced one even-strength goal.

“Not good enough, let’s put it that way,” Brouwer said. “We’ve had more than enough time to be comfortable with each other. That’s not the problem. We’re not creating anything. We’re good in our own zone, we’re not giving up many chances, but we’re not creating anything around the net and with the big bodies we have on our line and the ability we have on our line that’s absolutely not good enough.”

Laich said he’s particularly frustrated at his start, especially after missing all but nine games last season with groin-related injuries.

[RELATED: Analysis of Washington's loss to Pittsburgh on Wednesday night]

“I had high expectations of myself, but I did miss a year of hockey and it does have an effect on your timing, on being able to handle contact, on holding onto the puck,” Laich said.

“I’m at the point now that I’m satisfied I can handle the grind of the season, so in my mind, the first 20 games were big for me. I can take contact, I can still practice the next day. I got over a big hurdle here in the first 20 games, something I was sort of unsure of before the season. Now it’s time to take the game to the next level.”

Capitals coach Adam Oates said he has considered breaking up the second line on several occasions, including midway through the Caps’ 4-0 loss to Pittsburgh Wednesday night.

But he’s hesitant to tinker with the top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Johansson or the third line of Jason Chimera, Joel Ward and Grabovski. He said he’s toying with the idea of moving Erat to the middle and moving Laich back to left wing when the Caps face the Canadiens Friday night.

After practice on Thursday, Oates called Laich, Brouwer and Erat into his office and gave them this advice:

“I said, ‘One of the things you guys are all doing doing is you’re over-analyzing,’” Oates said. “The game is hard to score. They’re three good players, but they have to work a little harder, too, and smarter.”