Brooks Laich first noticed tightness in his groin after the Capitals’ loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 22, but it wasn’t until midway through a game five days later against Ottawa that it flared up to the point where he couldn’t play through it.
He skated 18 minutes 6 seconds against the Senators on Nov. 27 but hasn’t been on the ice since. Laich has missed three consecutive games so far and there is no timeline for his return to the lineup.
“It was difficult to finish that game for myself. By the end of the third I had lost a lot of my ability to skate, my ability to retract my stride and be explosive and especially turn to my left,” Laich said Thursday at the Capitals’ practice facility in Arlington. “It was pretty evident that I wasn’t going to be able to help the team and I was going to do a lot of harm to myself, so it really wasn’t a hard decision to come off the ice. It [stinks]. I want to play, but physically I just wasn’t capable.”
Laich, 30, missed all but nine games last season with a lingering right groin problem that ultimately required abdominal surgery. The injury that has sidelined him now is on the same side and is related to that initial ailment. Laich, who says the pain isn’t as acute this time around, is concerned about the recurrence of the same problem.
“I went through a pretty extensive process last year to A. Figure out what was causing it, and B. To try and find a solution. Ultimately we were never really able to nail down the cause for either, so it’s concerning to why it’s happening again,” said Laich, who prior to that Montreal game hadn’t noticed any limitations or discomfort and believed he had put this groin injury behind him.
“It felt like I was 20 some games into the year, ‘Okay I’m over the hurdle. I think I can handle the grind,’ and then all of a sudden it came on again,” Laich said. “It’s not as severe this time, the pain isn’t as severe. The limitation all of that is a lot different but it’s still concerning as to why it’s back.”
Laich’s determination to play through injuries over the course of his career is well established, but last year showed him that being bullheaded isn’t necessarily going to help his recovery.
After experiencing various setbacks last year when he pushed himself too quickly down a path of recovery, Laich says he’s learned that there is no substitute for time. He’s not sure when he’ll be back on the ice, especially considering that he still experiences pain getting in or out of a car.
“I was pretty humbled last year. I learned pretty quickly that it’s something I can’t beat. It’s not a question of being tough or being stubborn, it’s so physically limiting that you just can’t help the team,” Laich said. “I’m going to have to be right before I go back on the ice in order to be able to make the season and to be able to play for a continued stretch of time.”
Still, Laich is doing what he can to be proactive. He recently began acupuncture with electrical stimulation that sends a current through the needles to help speed recovery of targeted muscles. Laich said that he’s experienced immediate results in terms of pain decreasing after sessions on Sunday and Wednesday.
“Sometimes you get a big jolt and sometimes you don’t, but it’s supposed to get pathways in certain muscles firing at the same time. It’s kind of like a G-rated way of being tasered, if that makes sense,” Laich said. “I had good results with it the first time, so we went a little more aggressive yesterday. It’s kind of something that I’m hopeful will get me back on the ice.”