Brooks Laich hasn’t skated with his teammates for a week, but the Washington Capitals are sharing precious little information about the forward’s health or when he might be able to return to the lineup.
On April 4, Laich suffered what Coach Adam Oates described as a lower-body injury that is negatively affecting the veteran’s pre-existing groin problem. The team lists Laich’s status as day-to-day, but that term discounts the possibility that the 29-year-old could miss the final seven games of the regular season.
“He’s seen a lot of people and we’re just trying to figure out any way we can to get him on the ice before we go to other steps,” Oates said Friday. “He’s got a groin problem. They still are having a tough time identifying exactly what it is.”
Laich met with St. Louis-based groin specialist Michael Brunt on Tuesday and consulted with another specialist on Thursday, but the Capitals have not provided an update on what options they have recommended.
“We know what the issue is,” General Manager George McPhee said Friday, declining to comment further on Laich’s status.
Laich missed the first 28 games of the season after suffering a groin injury in November while playing in Switzerland during the NHL lockout. He made his season debut with the Capitals on March 19, but in his ninth game back — April 4 against the New York Islanders — the lower-body injury sidelined him once again.
In the second period of the game against the Islanders, Laich took a puck to a sensitive area but didn’t miss a shift and Oates said this injury is not related to that incident. Laich continued to play in the game until midway through the third period when Oates and head athletic trainer Greg Smith decided it was best to “shut him down” as the forward was clearly laboring in his stride.
“Some things are going to stay in house. The game was pretty fast. I really don't have a lot to say,” Laich said following that game. He has not spoken with reporters since and has missed four games since the latest injury.
There’s a large amount of uncertainty with any lingering groin injury because of the additional problems that they can lead to sports hernias, lower-back injuries and torn abdominal muscles. Oates is familiar with how difficult it can be to cope with the injury because he tore his groin muscle twice, seven years apart, during his playing career.
“You’re just looking for an answer because you can’t pinpoint what it is,” Oates said. “There’s just so much stress on those areas there, it’s really difficult to find. And obviously you do all the tests and see all the specialists.
“Brooks is dying. He wants to be a part of this. And we need him,” Oates added. “So obviously we want to make it as short as possible. It goes to show you how difficult the trauma is because it’s been all year they’ve been trying figure it out.”
The ambiguity with groin injuries and their underlying causes can make it even more difficult for a player and team to determine the correct course of action in a rehabilitation process.
Last season, defenseman Mike Green missed 41 games with a nagging groin injury that resulted in an abdominal tear and eventually required sports hernia surgery. For the first portion of Green’s absence with the injury, he tried several non-invasive routes from traditional physical therapy methods to electrical stimulation. But Green was never able to recover fully and surgery became necessary.
“I talked to him early on in the year, the sound of it, it’s one of those things — the same thing I had — where it wasn’t able to be rehabbed to 100 percent,” Green said. “At some point you just gotta make a decision. It’s unfortunate that he’s going through what he’s going through right now.”
Green, 27, underwent surgery on Jan. 17, 2012 and was able to return to Washington’s lineup a month later. Washington’s top defenseman admitted that accepting the need for surgery was difficult at the time but realizes now that he’s much better off for going through with the procedure.
“I beat myself up about it,” Green said. “If I would have tried to battle through that then it could have been years. I’ve talked to him about it, the progress and success I’ve had with mine over the course of two months, three months after I had [surgery]. He’s going to go through the same thing, but it’s night and day when you come out of there with it feeling like that — or fixed at least.”
In mid-March before playing a game, Laich called his rehabilitation from the groin injury the most difficult challenge he faced in his eight-year NHL career. “It's been a long, long process,” Laich said March 12. “Something I never, ever wanna go through again. Ever.”
While Green has told Laich about the positive impact surgery had on his health, the defenseman doesn’t know how his teammate will approach the decision.
“You know Brooks, he’s hard-headed,” said Green, who understands how tough it is for any player to sit out with the playoffs on the horizon. “I gave him my info, but who knows how he takes it? He’s got one vision and that’s in his own head.
“He’s got to believe that we’re going to do our job to make sure we make a run here,” Green added. “As long as he does his job he’ll be back, and we’ll still be playing hockey when he’s back.”