After leaving Friday night’s game in the third period with tightness in the groin that crippled him for much of last season, Brooks Laich did not skate Saturday.
“In the third period he felt a little tightness, but we shut him down,” Capitals Coach Adam Oates said. “He still killed a penalty for us. But he didn’t skate today and we’ll see how he feels when he wakes up tomorrow.”
Laich’s absence compounds Washington’s depth issues at forward, where an injury to Mikhail Grabovski had already left the Capitals’ stingy offense down a key top-six cog. Grabovski skated lightly and briefly before practice Saturday.
With Laich out, Oates’s top line at practice consisted of Martin Erat, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alex Ovechkin, while Jay Beagle centered for Marcus Johansson and Troy Brouwer on the second. Jason Chimera, Eric Fehr, and Joel Ward made up the third line, while Aaron Volpatti, Casey Wellman, and Tom Wilson composed the fourth.
Wellman scored a huge goal in the third period Friday night, his second in five NHL games this season, and is looking to work his way into Washington’s regular rotation.
“For Casey, it’s an opportunity to show that he can play,” Oates said. “He had two breakaways [Friday night], scored a goal, got a goal the other night in Montreal, he’s showing some offensive capabilities, which is great for him, it’s an opportunity. … We’re also talking about a kid who’s playing against teams for the first time, in buildings for the first time. It can be overwhelming, and he’s doing a pretty good job.”
“He’s a very quick player,” Oates added of Wellman, a 26-year-old University of Massachusetts product. “Obviously teams don’t know him so there’s always a learning curve, but he’s contributed for us, he’s played pretty good, and he’s gotten a lot of minutes, so it’s kind of a win-win.”
Oates also credited Beagle for taking to most of his chance to play with top-six forwards, rather than in his typical grind and claw role, and said he’s willing to absorb a few more miscues from Beagle as he adjusts to the new responsibilities.
“You go from not playing too many minutes and playing careful, to all of a sudden you feel like you’re going to play a few more minutes and all of a sudden your leash changes because you can’t play that many minutes without making a mistake — it’s impossible, everybody does,” Oates said of the difference between playing on the fourth line and on the top two. “I try to let them know that yeah, it is different, but I need you to play with confidence whether you’re playing for five minutes or 15 minutes.”
Oates wouldn’t rule Laich out for Sunday’s game vs. the Red Wings, but when asked if the team would make a move he didn’t rule that out either.
“That’s something I think we’ll have to do tomorrow,” Oates said.
Hershey plays in Philadelphia today at 1:30 p.m.