The Washington Times - April 16, 2013, 10:06AM

The Washington Capitals want Brooks Laich to be “pain-free” from a groin injury before returning to skating, but surgery is not being considered right now, coach Adam Oates said.

Laich will miss his 34th game of the season Tuesday night, and there is no timetable for his return to the lineup.

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“We came to the conclusion that we want him to be pain-free before he goes on the ice again,” Oates said. “So he’s working as hard as he can to become pain-free. We don’t want any setbacks, and that’s what he’s trying to do.”

Asked if surgery was an option at this point, Oates said: “Not right now, no.”

Laich could be seen walking around the team’s practice facility with a significant limp during Tuesday’s morning skate. He has not skated since suffering a lower-body injury that affected his groin April 4.

That’s likely to continue, as there’s no real way to know how long Laich will be out.

“As of right now, no. I think we’ve gotten close a few times,” Oates said. “You don’t want a guy to have a setback. It’s obviously a tough injury, and right now it’s obviously between him and [trainer Greg Smith] and the doctors.”

Laich missed the first 28 games of the season with a groin injury suffered in November while playing in Switzerland during the NHL lockout. He returned March 19 and played nine games before he left again.

“I thought he was pain-free at the beginning, then all of a sudden, and I shouldn’t really speak too much for him, but I think it was more fatigue,” Oates said. “We thought it was fatigue from lack of use and just lost some strength and maybe he was aggravating it.”

Oates started Laich on the fourth line against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but that lasted just two shifts. He played over 19 minutes three times in the nine games he was in the lineup.

“At first I didn’t play him too much and the score dictated that in a couple games, and he was feeling pretty good,” Oates said. “And then it just kind of started to tire and weaken and we determined that it was painful, so we don’t want to get to that point again.”

So the Caps are in wait-and-see mode with Laich, who’s off the ice until further notice.

“We want it to be a hundred percent pain-free,” Oates said. “We don’t want to do what we did last time. We want to make sure that you’re a hundred percent.”

Asked about Laich’s desire to participate in the playoffs, Oates said: “Yeah, I would say that would be a legitimate goal for us.”

But that’s far from an assurance that Laich will be pain-free and ready by then.