PITTSBURGH | Brooks Laich wanted “baptism by fire” in his season debut after missing the Washington Capitals’ first 28 games because of a groin injury. Coach Adam Oates said he was probably going to ease Laich in, starting on the fourth line.
If taking one fourth-line shift before a promotion to the second line counts, Laich was eased in Tuesday night in a 2-1 loss at the Pittsburgh Penguins. He played 12:51, including 2:13 short-handed.
“I thought he played very well considering the time off,” Oates said.
Laich reported feeling “pretty good” after his first game since playing in Switzerland during the NHL lockout.
“Been a long time coming. I’ve been getting anxious to play,” Laich said. “Had a good first period and got into the game pretty quickly. Just tough to not get the win.”
Laich said Tuesday morning he was focused on the team and the game, not himself. At the end of the night, his return was a footnote given the failed four-minute power play that cost the Caps at least a point.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a silver lining in Laich making quick work of earning a promotion. He took one shift on the fourth line with Matt Hendricks and Jay Beagle and one penalty-killing shift alongside Beagle before Oates bumped him up to the second line with Mike Ribeiro and Troy Brouwer.
Laich saw some time with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, though it looked like that was mostly for faceoffs. Laich was 2-for-6.
“He played with Ribs and Brouw second half of the game, but I was watching him,” Oates said. “We didn’t have any penalties the second half against so I didn’t put him in on any PP time so it was mostly five-on-five.”
Oates didn’t want to press the 29-year-old too much, though the Caps’ coach wasn’t surprised Laich didn’t need too long to adjust to the speed of the game again.
“No, because he’s in good shape,” Oates said. “We talked about his conditioning a lot, he only played 12 minutes so I don’t feel like I overextended him.”