By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 24, 2010; D06
When the Washington Capitals host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday, they could be without one of their most durable -- and important -- forwards.
Brooks Laich, the team's second-line left wing, was struck in the face by a puck during practice Tuesday morning. He immediately skated off the rink, pressing his glove against the left side of his face while frantically calling for the team's trainer.
Laich was taken to the hospital for stitches and X-rays, according to Coach Bruce Boudreau.
The Capitals did not provide an update on his injury, but it's believed that Laich will be reexamined Wednesday morning before the team determines his status for the game against the rival Penguins, who sit second in the Eastern Conference standings, 16 points behind Washington.
With a win, the league-leading Capitals can match the franchise record for points, 108, set last season. It would also put them in position to clinch first place in the Eastern Conference this week.
The Penguins, meantime, have dropped five of their last seven games (2-3-2) and are tied with New Jersey at 90 points after the Devils' win Tuesday night. They could be without Evgeni Malkin, who has missed three of the past four games with a bruised foot.
The major concern immediately after practice, though, was Laich's scary-looking injury.
"He got hit by a puck off the crossbar and post," Boudreau said about 30 minutes after the incident. "He's going to [the hospital] to get [stitched] up. I'm sure because it's in the face, they'll do all the precautionary stuff, do the X-ray and do whatever they have to do."
Laich was injured at the end of practice, when the players often engage in light-hearted sharpshooting contests. Defenseman John Carlson unleashed a shot that ricocheted off the crossbar and into the face of Laich, who does not wear a visor. Laich scurried into a players-only area near the dressing room at Kettler Capitals Iceplex and dropped to his knees before being surrounded by teammates Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Carlson.
"He'll be playing for Hershey this weekend," Boudreau joked about Carlson.
As for Laich, the 26-year-old has not missed a game the past three seasons, suiting up for all 82 regular season contests in 2007-08 and 2008-09. He is also one of only two Capitals to appear in all 72 games this season, joining Backstrom, who has yet to miss a game in three-plus seasons in the NHL.
Because the Capitals have three extra forwards on the roster, they would not have to recall any players for Wednesday's game if Laich can't suit up. His absence, though, would be felt. The winger has been one of the Capitals' most productive players the past two weeks, racking up four goals and four assists in the last six games.
In addition to Laich, Scott Walker and Boyd Gordon are also injured. Walker tweaked a knee when he fell awkwardly after being punched in the side of the head by Tampa Bay enforcer Zenon Konopka in the second period of Saturday's game.
He sported a bruise around his left ear Tuesday and skated after practice, but was all but ruled out for Wednesday by Boudreau. "He's feeling a lot better and will start participating in the next practice that we have," Boudreau said.
Gordon, meantime, has missed two straight games after aggravating a back injury that landed him on injured reserve for 31 games earlier this season. Gordon did not practice Tuesday and remains in Hershey, Pa., where he is with the minor league Bears.
"Gordo wants to make 100 percent sure that he's ready," Boudreau said. "He doesn't want the thing flaming up again and getting sore. He'll probably be ready to practice on the weekend."