For the first two months of the regular season, the Washington Capitals wondered what they would look like with Brooks Laich back in the lineup. Over the past two and a half weeks they got a good look.
Laich’s addition to the lineup allowed Coach Adam Oates to balance the forward lines, spread out penalty kill and power play minutes a little more and the dressing room gained the daily presence of one of the Capitals main leaders. In nine games with Laich in the lineup, Washington went 6-2-1 and propelled itself into a playoff spot.
While the Capitals’ resurgence this season cannot be attributed exclusively to Laich’s return, it certainly didn’t hurt to get a top-six forward back as the team fought for its postseason hopes.
Once again, though, Washington must adjust to not having the alternate captain in the lineup. Laich didn’t travel to Florida with the team, will miss Saturday’s game against the Panthers and how long he will be out with what the team is calling a lower-body injury remains unclear.
“He plays a lot of minutes; he plays in all situations; and he’s important to this team,” Nicklas Backstrom said. “But he’s out now so it’s just time for everybody to step up and take on a little bit bigger of a role, I think we’re guys that like those challenges.”
The deadline-day acquisition of Martin Erat will prove to be particularly important now for the Capitals as he will take over the left wing spot on the second line, which is where he finished Thursday’s game against the Islanders after Laich left the game.
“I think it sure helps,” Oates said of having Erat in light of Laich’s injury. “You want to be healthy but teams have injuries, everybody goes through it. That move sure looks good right now.”
Mike Ribeiro is familiar with Erat from their time facing off as opponents in the Western Conference and he believes it will be an easy transition for him to work with the 31-year-old Czech winger. Ribeiro said playing with Erat, a true wing, may be easier for him than with Laich, who is a center turned wing.
“System wise I think he’s a really smart player and that won’t be a problem just for him, to get adjusted to new players, new things to do out there may take a game or two,” Ribeiro said. “It might be easier for me I think. Lately I was playing half my shifts winger, half my shifts center. I think it’s going to be easier for me to focus on center, do my job as a center tonight.”
While it’s uncertain how much time Laich will miss, the Capitals aren’t letting his absence distract them from the task at hand – gaining two points against Florida, which is the worst team in the Eastern Conference.
“There’s not much we can do about it. We just got to fight through it and try to keep doing what we’re doing,” Marcus Johansson said. “If we do the right things we can find a way to keep going and make the playoffs.”