(AP Photo/Nick Wass)

After the Capitals gathered for their annual team photo Thursday morning, Brooks Laich took his first strides on the ice since undergoing groin surgery 10 days earlier.

They were small circles, nothing too strenuous, but the movement elicited a wide grin from the veteran forward because after grappling with a nagging groin injury for more than a year and a half, Laich believes he has found the correct path to recovery.

“I feel like I had chains around my body and now somebody just came and cut them off and now I’m free to move about in any direction at any time I want. And it’s completely liberating,” said Laich, who last played on March 14 against Vancouver. “That’s honestly how I feel — mentally and physically liberated and free to get on with my hockey career and excel in the sport, not just participate.”

Laich, 30, underwent surgery to release a tight adductor muscle on March 17 in the latest attempt to find a solution to this lingering groin problem, which originally occurred in the fall of 2012 while he was playing in Switzerland during the NHL lockout.

This procedure was more invasive than the surgery he underwent in April 2013, Laich explained, adding that just nine hours after going under the knife this time he felt immediate relief from the persistent pain that has hampered him these past two seasons.

While the surgery comes with a four-to-six week recovery timeline — the short end of which would be the day after the Capitals’ regular season ends — Laich wouldn’t rule out the possibility that he could return before the final game on April 13.

Those instant results are translating into a quick recovery process, so far. Laich has been ramping up his off-ice workouts, gradually increasing his speed on the treadmill, and hopes to go through his first true skating session on Friday prior to the team’s regular practice. Laich’s most recent surgery comes with a four-to-six week recovery timeline and while four weeks would be the day after the Capitals’ regular season ends, the forward won’t rule out the possibility that he could return before then.

“There’s a chance, but it’s also very optimistic. Number one goal, I realize the gravity of the situation we’re in, but my goal is ultimately my longevity of my career. This is something that’s really hampered me the last two seasons, and not only my hockey career, but my life outside of the rink,” Laich said. “I need to get back to being healthy and have this completely behind me, which I feel I’m on the track. Then my body will tell me, ‘Okay, I’m very comfortable’ and I can really push it and let’s get back into the lineup….. I have my eye on the season, I’m still in hockey mode, but I can’t guarantee anything today.”

Laich admitted that he had been playing through significant pain throughout the season and that after the Olympic break there was a noticeable decline in what he could endure, yet he continued to suit up despite being “maybe 10 percent” healthy.

Part of the reason he waited so long to have the surgery, Laich said, was because he wasn’t sure it wasn’t simply residual soreness from the previous procedure. As his health continued to deteriorate, Laich reached a point where he realized there was nothing more he could do. Dr. Michael Brunt, a groin specialist based in St. Louis who performed both surgeries, later confirmed that assumption when he told the forward that no amount of rehab or rest would have healed the injury.

“I was physically unable to help the hockey team so that made my decision very easy as to what I should be doing,” Laich said. “It’s honestly been a very tough season. Throughout the season there’s maybe been a handful of games where I’ve felt comfortable and felt healthy in the game. Most part of it has been playing discomfort and pain. That’s no excuse, that’s hockey, but certainly that’s a tough way to carry on a career and a tough way to excel. Now hopefully this is behind and now I can really push the pace and challenge myself to be better.”