Laing's Second Chance Gets Off to a Good Start

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Almost four years had passed since Quintin Laing's last stint in the NHL, and at 28, the checking-line winger had begun to wonder whether another opportunity would come along.

Then the Hershey Bears captain's cellphone rang last Thursday afternoon. A couple of Capitals had suffered injuries, Laing was told, and he was needed in Washington.

On his way to the airport, Laing made a promise to himself: play each shift as if it were his last.

"I've been playing pro for seven years and this is only my second opportunity in the NHL, so I know these opportunities don't come around every day," said Laing, whose only previous NHL experience came during the 2003-04 season, when he skated in three games for the Chicago Blackhawks.

In his first two games back in the big leagues, Laing has fulfilled that promise -- and his relentless hustle and willingness to sacrifice his body have left quite an impression on his new teammates, goaltender Brent Johnson in particular.

Johnson was in goal Saturday night in Sunrise, Fla., attempting to hold on for his first victory since opening night as the Panthers' power play pressed for the tying goal in the final seconds.

Washington lost a faceoff deep in its end, but Laing sprawled on the ice to block successive shots by Panthers defenseman Ruslan Salei to help Johnson and the Capitals secure a 2-1 victory.

Those were blocks Nos. 3 and 4 of the game for the Saskatchewan native, who also blocked four shots in the Capitals' 4-3 loss at Carolina on Friday. He led the team in that category both nights.

"He's a heart-and-soul guy," Capitals winger Brooks Laich said of Laing. "He lays his body out there, relentlessly and religiously in front of pucks. He does the little things that help you win."

Johnson added: "He's an old-time hockey player. People want to see scoring, but as a goaltender you appreciate guys like him. He went down and blocked a shot with his chest. I went up to him afterward, and said, 'Seriously, you keep that up and you're going to be here.' "

Laing got the call when checking-line center Boyd Gordon suffered an undisclosed injury. Laing said his wife screamed as he did his best to remain composed.

The Capitals needed a penalty-kill specialist to replace Gordon, and Laing fit the description best. Plus, he was familiar with interim coach Bruce Boudreau, who had been promoted from Hershey the previous week.

Laing scored a career-high 15 goals for the Bears last season, although he pointed out that five of them were empty-netters. He was just as honest when asked why he hasn't gotten more chances to prove himself against NHL competition.

"I'm not the fastest skater and I don't have the greatest hands," said Laing, who was drafted in the fourth round by Detroit in 1997 and has played 432 American Hockey League games since. "But I think I make up for it with my instincts and hockey sense."

Laing doesn't know how long his stay in Washington is going to last (Gordon is listed as week-to-week), and the odds of him sticking around on a permanent basis are long. But this time around, he doesn't want to have any regrets.

"I know every shift could be my last," he said. "If I have a bad shift, I know I might not get another one. I just want to make an impression and turn it into a career here."

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