Brooks Laich said he found out Saturday morning that he’d be playing a full game as a defenseman for the first time in his career. It was a bit of an adjustment, even for the player many identify as the most versatile on the Capitals’ roster, but Laich didn’t look out of place on the blue line.
He skated 23 minutes 26 seconds on a night when the Capitals were already without regulars Mike Green and John Erskine to injury, then lost veteran Roman Hamrlik to an undisclosed ailment. Laich didn’t record a point in the Capitals’ 3-2 shootout loss to the Devils but finished with three shots on goal and blocked four New Jersey shots as well.
“Just as a student of the game, you try to pay attention to all the positions but it’s not as easy as our defensemen make it look,” Laich said afterward. “It’s a tough position to play. Your face is in the glass quite a bit and you’re always being pressured. It’s always nice to learn it, I’ve never played a full game back on D so [I] take the experience as a positive.”
Laich, who said he doesn’t know if the defensive stint will continue beyond Saturday’s game, was initially paired with Hamrlik when the game began but once the 37-year-old Czech left the contest he rotated in among the remaining healthy defensemen. It was an unusual decision to say the least, but with both Green and Erskine out the Capitals decided to use Laich in spot duty rather than recall someone from Hershey.
“When we’ve done things like this with Brooks before he just embraces it and we knew he’d do a good job,” Coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We didn’t know up until game time whether John was going to play or not. So we didn’t want to call somebody up and it probably was 10 to 6 [p.m.] when [head athletic trainer] Greg [Smith] came in and said he didn’t think John was going to be able to go.”
Laich had filled in on occasion on defense for the Capitals before, but never for a full game. Part of what helped him make the transition Saturday, Laich said, is the time he spent working out in the offseason doing defensive drills and power skating with Tampa Bay defenseman Brett Clark.
“I really try to work on that part of my game just for situations like this,” Laich said. “So it becomes more of a mental thing, I think. You just have to make sure you’re in the right position and overcompensate things.”
While the health of the blue line moving forward is murky, it’s hard to envision Laich playing defense as much more than a temporary solution.
Depending on the injury status of Hamrlik (undisclosed injury), Green (lower-body injury) and Erskine (undisclosed injury), Washington may need to recall a defenseman before heading out on a three-game road trip this week, at least as a precaution in the event of a setback or another injury to a blue-liner.