Updated 2:06 p.m.: The Capitals have placed Brooks Laich on the long-term injured reserve list retroactive to Nov. 27. Laich has missed seven consecutive games since he strained his right groin muscle and remains sidelined indefinitely by the injury, which is similar to the problem that limited him to only nine games last season and ultimately required abdominal surgery.
The earliest Laich, 30, would be eligible to be activated from LTIR is Dec. 22 though at this point that seems to be an optimistic timeframe. Laich has skated only three times since he last played on Nov. 27.
Placing Laich on LTIR opened up the roster spot and salary cap space for Washington to activate veteran defenseman John Erskine from LTIR. In addition, the Capitals have recalled gritty center Michael Latta and reassigned Nate Schmidt to the Hershey Bears.
Erskine will be back in the lineup after missing the past 21 games with an injured left knee and sending Schmidt, who appeared in 28 contests dating back to Oct. 12, to the AHL opens up a spot in the nightly lineup. Latta is expected to face the Flyers Sunday.
“I just want him to play. We’ve missed him. We need his minutes, his size. We need good decisions with the puck,” Oates said of Erskine. “It’s been a long time so we’re not expecting too much but he’s a veteran and coincidentally it comes on a night we’re playing Philly, so obviously size is important But we need him to play good hockey.”
>> Philipp Grubauer gets the nod against the Flyers for Sunday’s matinee contest at Verizon Center, which will mark his third start in the past four games. The top goaltending prospect in Washington’s system, Grubauer has made quite the impression with the Capitals since being called up on Nov. 30 after Michal Neuvirth was sidelined by a right ankle injury.
He’s made four appearances since then but dating back to Dec. 8 when he made just his second career NHL start against the Rangers in New York, Grubauer has shined. In three games this week, he’s stopped 101 of the 106 shots he’s faced for a .953 save percentage and 1.69 goals-against average.
“One of the things you ask of a goalie is to give a team a feeling,” Coach Adam Oates said. “And he’s given us that feeling that were solid back there. Every goalie lets goals in, we know that, but right now he’s giving the guys a feeling that we’re solid back there.”
The Capitals will have some decisions to make with their goaltending moving forward. Grubauer has been sturdy and given Washington opportunities to win every night he’s been in net, but Neuvirth appears to be close to returning from injury after making 33 saves in a conditioning stint outing with the AHL’s Hershey Bears in a 7-4 win over Binghamton Saturday night. And all of this comes while Braden Holtby has hit a bit of a rough patch and was pulled from two of his last three starts.
>>Projected lineups for both teams
Michael Raffl-Claude Giroux-Jakub Voracek
Scott Hartnell-Brayden Schenn-Wayne Simmonds
Matt Read-Sean Couturier-Steve Downie
Zac Rinaldo-Adam Hall-Jay Rosehill
Kimmo Timonen-Braydon Coburn
Mark Streit-Nick Grossman
Andrej Meszaros-Luke Schenn
Steve Mason will start. Ray Emery will back up