The last time Brooks Laich skated with the Capitals, he was only on the ice for 10 minutes. So when the versatile forward joined practice Thursday, Coach Adam Oates wasn’t too concerned about evaluating him so much as making sure he made it through the workout unscathed.
“Really, I was just watching to make sure he didn’t leave the ice,” said Oates, who was glad to see Laich work through a full practice for the first time during training camp.
Laich, 30, tweaked his left hip flexor on Sept. 5 when he skated at KCI for the first time since returning to Washington for the upcoming season. It was a disappointing turn of events for Laich, who missed all but nine games last season with a lingering groin injury that required surgery, and was looking for a healthy start to the year.
But while Laich was unable to take part in the first seven days of camp, he still has his sights set on being ready by time the regular season opens on Oct. 1.
“I’ve really come in tune with my body. What is an injury and what’s just a little tweak. I knew that [the hip flexor] wasn’t severe. It was just a patience game; it wasn’t a game of is something wrong or not. It was tough to sit and watch, but ultimately I knew it was a short-term thing,” said Laich, who has learned that no amount of will and stubbornness can help him recover from certain types of injuries.
Laich’s experience with the persistent groin issues last year taught him to trust in the coaching and athletic training staff to make the right decision when it comes to how much and in which games he should play. While he’d like to play in Friday’s preseason game against the Chicago Blackhawks at Verizon Center, Laich knows it’s not his call to make.
“Whatever they say, there’s still time to prepare,” Laich said. “I had Sept. 11 circled on my calendar but the big circle was on Oct. 1. That’s the one I’m really looking forward to. Whatever gets me to be 100 percent by that, that’s what we’ll do.”
Oates said Laich won’t play Friday, he wants to give the forward more practice time before he suits up for an exhibition contest. But Laich did skate with Mikhail Grabovski and Troy Brouwer, who he could open the season with as a second-line left wing.
Still, Oates is taking a cautious approach. Given the ups and downs with Laich’s recovery last year, he wants to make sure that the Capitals keep a close eye on his health. Oates also said he wants to be more involved in the decisions about Laich’s readiness for games this year.
“I am going to be, for sure this time, just because what happened to him last year. It’s nobody’s fault, they’re weird injuries,” Oates said. “This year it was just a little tweak, maybe a little compensation or just a little tweak from just moving out there, and because of his history we’re going to make sure we go with kid gloves.”
>> The Capitals made another round of training camp cuts Thursday, bringing the roster to 41 players. Forward Chandler Stephenson was returned to his junior team while forwards Nicolas Deschamps, Stanislav Galiev, Peter Leblanc, Brandon Segal, Matt Watkins and defensemen Chay Genoway and David Kolomatis were sent to Hershey.