In the midst of a lighthearted and loose Capitals locker room at Nassau Coliseum this morning was a smiling Brooks Laich.
And why wouldn’t he be smiling?
Laich is enjoying his most productive stretch in three months, having scored three goals in the past four games to help the Caps go 3-0-1 and vault back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The center last scored three goals in four games from Dec. 3-9.
“What’s really helped is Jay Beagle,” he said when asked about his scoring spree. “Before, my role was an assignment center, trying to match up with [opponent’s] top lines. Having Jay step up into that role has allowed me to move up and try to create more offense.”
Laich was referring to Coach Dale Hunter’s recent shuffling of the forward combinations. After the Caps were shut out in back-to-back games by New Jersey and Philadelphia, Laich was promoted to the top line with wingers Alex Ovechkin and Marcus Johansson for the game against Carolina. Beagle, meantime, replaced Laich on the third line.
Since the shakeup, the Caps’ top line has accounted for two goals – one by Laich and the other by Johansson. (Laich’s other goals came shorthanded and on the power play, the latter of which was assisted by Ovechkin.)
Ovechkin said Laich’s prowess in the faceoff circle has been the key to the trio’s surge.
“He’s hard-working guy, good on defense, and most important thing is he’s good on faceoffs,” Ovechkin said. “When you have a guy like that on faceoffs, 50 percent [of the time] you can get the puck and get a [scoring] opportunity.”
It’s a small sample size, Laich acknowledged, but he’s hopeful it’s the beginning of something special for the line.
“Ovi and I have played together for seven years,” Laich said. “I know how he plays and how he thinks. He wants the puck going up the ice, so in the defensive zone my job is to get the puck back and get the transition up the ice. It’s worked well the past couple of games and hopefully it keeps going.”