After weeks and months of a tedious recovery process from a lingering groin injury, Brooks Laich will finally make his season debut for the Capitals Tuesday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Laich, 29, was back to business-as-usual mode after the morning skate at Consol Energy Center, saying that he didn’t want his return to be a distraction to his teammates.
“I’m not trying to get things out of proportion here. I’m focusing on winning a hockey game,” Laich said. “I just want to make a seamless transition to be part of the team. I don’t want this to be any sort of distraction to the guys; I’m just going to come in play my game and try and contribute to the win. “
But in all honesty, it’s hard to overstate Laich’s importance to the Capitals. He plays in all situations – even strength, penalty kill and power play – and he will eventually slot into the top-line left wing spot that has lacked a consistent presence all season.
At least to start the tilt against the Eastern Conference leading Penguins, though, he’ll play on the fourth line alongside Matt Hendricks and Jay Beagle.
“Obviously happy to have him back. I’m sure he’s more anxious than I am. But we’re going to ease him into the game slow,” said Coach Adam Oates, who added that Laich will see some time on special teams. “A little. More PK, probably than PP. But I got to get him into the game slow and see how he feels and see how he’s responding. It’s been a long time.”
This will be Laich’s first game under Oates, and while there might be a little bit of a transitional period, the utility forward is confident he’ll be able to execute it quickly, thanks to a lot of time spent in systems meetings and watching the Capitals play from the press box.
“I think I’ve got a pretty good feel for how it works, having the bird’s eye view for a little bit, but I want to experience it,” Laich said. “I really believe in the system and I think it looks good. I think we can be a very tough team to play against, while also putting them back on their heels and going after some offense. I’m just licking my chops here to get in.”
Laich’s return will allow for a trickle-down effect in the lineup that slots the forwards in roles they’re more naturally suited for. Having his leadership back into the dressing room on game days certainly won’t hurt, either.
“He’s obviously one of our leaders, he wears an ‘A’,” Troy Brouwer said. “He’s been around a long time and the guys really respect his hard work and how he approaches the game. .. He’s got a lot of passion in his game and loves playing hockey and that definitely shows when he’s on the ice and competing.”