By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 18, 2010; D08
Brooks Laich had been mired in a forgettable stretch of hockey over the past few months, and despite consistently being among the first players to arrive at practice and the last to depart, the Washington Capitals winger-center was making little headway in his attempts to emerge from the rut.
"I was trying to put a fire out with gasoline," Laich said, "where I was just compounding problem after problem. I was working too hard, and I was not relaxed, and I was too relaxed and not working hard enough, and I just couldn't find my game."
That all changed dramatically on Sunday, when Laich had a pregame meeting with Coach Bruce Boudreau well before faceoff against heated rival Philadelphia. The two watched videotape of the slumping player, and Boudreau told him to simplify.
The result was a pair of goals and an assist for Laich, who had a hand in three straight goals that secured a 5-3 victory before 18,277 at Verizon Center. Laich's second goal came short-handed 4 minutes 56 seconds into the third period to make it 4-2, providing the necessary cushion to help the Capitals (30-12-6) win for the sixth time in seven games.
It was Laich's third multigoal game of the season but his first since Nov. 1, when he scored twice in a 5-4 overtime loss to Columbus.
"We went through the shifts from the Toronto game [a 6-1 win on Friday], and at the end of it we discussed what we saw," Laich said. "The term [Boudreau] used was just me kind of existing out there. The term I used was I looked uninspired to me, the way I was playing, so he said get back to being determined and skating and using your assets, and good things will happen."
They did with a flourish, as Laich ended his streak of eight consecutive games without a goal 13 minutes 28 seconds into the first period, cleaning up a rebound against Flyers goalie Ray Emery after Emery stopped a shot from Tomas Fleischmann. That score tied it at 2 and gave Laich just his second goal in 19 games.
There was plenty more in store for Laich, including catching a break on Alexander Semin's goal 7:05 into the second period. Defenseman Mike Green fired the initial shot, and Laich was planted in front of the crease. The puck bounced off Laich's stick and then his skate before Semin collected it and launched a shot that got by Emery for a 3-2 lead.
That was the type of good fortune that so often had eluded Laich over his dry spell that began to take shape after he scored one goal in a 4-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Nov. 17. In the following 17 games, Laich scored one goal and had six points, and after a goal and an assist in a 6-3 loss to Carolina on Dec. 28, he had no goals before Saturday's outburst.
"He is a very intense young man," Boudreau said of Laich. "Sometimes he likes to do too much. We just looked over his video -- his shifts, his goals -- we saw if there was anything we could find that he was doing different."
Said Laich: "He kind of said, just strip down your game and get back to basics. He challenged me in a positive way. It's nice to have a coach that will take the time to do that and not just scream at you."
Riding the confidence of taking part in back-to-back goals, Laich got the loudest ovation of the day after his goal early in the third period. With defenseman Tyler Sloan serving a two-minute penalty for roughing the Flyers' Danny Brière, Laich swiped the puck off Mike Richards's stick in the Philadelphia zone, skated in front of Emery and flipped in a backhanded shot.
That all but put the finishing touches on the Capitals' third consecutive victory over their former Patrick Division foe. Washington has beaten Philadelphia by a combined 17-7 in those games.
"Whether [Laich] went 20 games without a goal or not, I still believed in him," Boudreau said. "I've had him long enough that I know eventually it's going to break out. . . . I know it's going to happen eventually, and when it does, I'm not saying flood gates are going to open, but it's going to be a lot easier for him."