The hit felt ordinary, the kind Brooks Laich takes each shift. But when the Capitals forward collided with Florida’s Shawn Thornton more than two weeks ago, he twirled around like a figure-skater, clutched his left shoulder, grimaced and disappeared into the locker room.
“I think I was just extended a little bit and it caught me maybe in a vulnerable position,” Laich said. “I think it was maybe a little bit of bad luck.”
Laich’s shoulder injury, similar to the one forward Jay Beagle suffered this preseason in Montreal, sidelined Laich for Washington’s three-game western Canada swing as well as games at home against Detroit, at Tampa Bay and, on Sunday, a fourth straight loss vs. Arizona.
That evening, while his teammates endured another disappointing outing and left searching for answers, Laich lifted weights for the first time since his injury. Tuesday morning, he practiced at Kettler Capitals Iceplex, sporting a powder-blue non-contact jersey.
“Today, too, is a great mind vitamin to skate with the team,” Laich said. “The skates in the mornings, by ourselves, it’s tough to really generate a lot of intensity and then when you get on with the team, you get more into flow drills, you get more into a quicker pace and it’s easy to generate more intensity. Today I finally felt physically able to participate in the full practice. For myself, very good day.”
After consulting Beagle and defenseman Mike Green, who also endured a similar injury, Laich learned the recovery process “ramps up pretty quickly toward the end.” He still cannot “fully take a slap shot” and his “backhand is still very limited,” but simply skating again was viewed as encouraging, particularly for the versatile 31-year-old who’s played just 60 games over the past two seasons.
“I’ve never had an injury like this, so I’ve never been through it before,” he said. “It’s certainly taken longer than I thought and coming a little slower, but being back on the ice with the team is a positive and it means I’m getting pretty close.”
Given Monday’s mandated off-day after back-to-back games this weekend, Laich will miss Tuesday’s home game vs. Calgary. But with two practice days until Washington’s next game, Laich targeted a return Friday in Chicago.
“I’m hopeful,” he said, “hopeful for Friday. We’ll see how practice goes in the next couple days. Certainly I want to try it out with some contact in the corner. For myself I’m gunning for Friday. We’ll obviously consult with the coaching staff and the medical staff. Certainly this weekend is circled on my calendar.”
Before getting hurt, Laich registered one assist in five games, exiting just as Washington began its recent slide, losing five of the next six. Coach Barry Trotz agreed that this weekend, with consecutive games against the Blackhawks and at home vs. Carolina, was a reasonable target date.
“I talked to him today,” Trotz said. “We’ll probably look at the weekend maybe. He’s made some progress but he’s got to make some more yet.”