- The Washington Times - Friday, March 14, 2008

Alex Ovechkin scored the game-winning goal Wednesday night for the Washington Capitals off assists from Mike Green and Eric Fehr, but Brooks Laich’s contribution didn’t go unnoticed.

Laich shielded Calgary goalie Miikka Kiprusoff’s vision in front of the net as Ovechkin unleashed a slap shot from the top of the offensive zone.

“We said it last night — that anything Kiprusoff saw he was going to stop,” Caps goaltender Olie Kolzig said. “He is that kind of a goaltender. He has great reflexes, and he reads the play well, but he is a smaller guy, and if you can keep him inside the paint and not let him see it, he gives up a lot of room.”

While he didn’t show up on the scoresheet for that goal, Laich has scored eight goals in the past 11 games — and many of them have come from that same area. With captain Chris Clark sidelined for most of the season with injuries, the Caps often have cited the lack of a presence in front of the net as a problem when the power-play unit struggles.

Laich has become the solution.

“We’re trying to get away from those cute, fancy plays that don’t really work,” Laich said. “If you get traffic in front and get a good point shot, something is going to happen.”

Ovechkin leads the NHL with 20 power-play goals, but Laich has become the team’s second-biggest weapon with the extra man of late. Six of those eight goals have come on the power play, and his seven extra-man goals rank third on the team behind Ovechkin and Green, who has eight.

That number is even more impressive because Laich doesn’t play on the team’s top power-play unit, while Ovechkin and Green often remain on the ice for almost the full two minutes at the points. Laich is a big reason the Caps power play has clicked at 30.5 percent in the past 14 games.

“He is not afraid to get his nose dirty,” Kolzig said. “He also has a quick stick around the net so he can pick up rebounds or deflect the puck in.”

Laing nominated

The Washington chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association has nominated Quintin Laing, who spent eight seasons in the minor leagues with only three games of NHL experience before this season, for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.

The award is given to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.” Laing was originally an emergency fill-in but has earned a permanent spot on the roster and become a bit of a cult hero with the fans because of his willingness to block shots.

“He’d throw himself in front of a bus if it’d help us win,” Laich said.

Laing has one goal — a game-winner against New Jersey — and six points in 41 games, but he ranks second in the NHL in shots blocked a game. He has made critical contributions to the team’s penalty-killing unit and is often on the ice in the final minute to preserve a lead.

“He’s rubbed off on a lot of guys with his tenacity and obviously with his courage when he blocks shots,” Kolzig said. “You look at a guy like Viktor Kozlov against New Jersey all of a sudden throwing his body down [in front of a shot] — he’s got an effect on guys. It is guys like him that really are the glue that keeps teams together.”

Injury updates

Defenseman John Erskine, who logged only 5:12 of ice time and had just one shift after fighting Calgary’s Eric Godard, did not practice yesterday and may not play tonight against Atlanta. Steve Eminger likely would take his place, and the Caps could recall Sami Lepisto for insurance.

Right wing Chris Clark returned to the ice after taking two days off and seeing a doctor about his injured groin. The team’s captain has missed 45 games with the injury. Defenseman Brian Pothier, out since Jan. 3 with a concussion, was at Verizon Center and in the locker room after the game but declined to speak with reporters.

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