EDMONTON, Alberta | Quintin Laing, in his quest to regain the weight he lost while his broken jaw was wired shut, hit a significant milestone Friday.
Then he reached a much more important one the following day.
One day after eating meat for the first time since blocking a shot with his face Nov. 17 at Madison Square Garden, Laing returned to the lineup for the Washington Capitals against the Edmonton Oilers.
"It has felt like a long time," said Laing, who had to wear an NCAA-style cage attached to his helmet to protect his still-healing jaw. "It was one of those games where you just want to bring some energy and keep everything simple. With the cage on it was a little bit of an adjustment, so I just wanted to keep things real simple and real short shifts."
Added captain Chris Clark: "He would have been back right away if they had let him. He is that type of player - just put a little bubble around him and protect what needs to be protected and let him go."
Laing said he lost 11 pounds after the injury. His jaw was wired shut for three weeks, but he began skating on his own and then with the team leading up to Saturday.
He said he has packed on about seven pounds since Dec. 8, when he regained the ability to eat solid food. Laing's first meal after his jaw was unwired was a heaping helping of mashed potatoes. But his Friday night feast was a real treat.
"Prime rib - softest I could get," Laing said. "We'll work our way up to a steak. Baby steps."
Laing was expected to be out four-to-six weeks after the injury, but as expected, his time off was closer to the short end of the timetable. He has become something of a folk hero among fans and teammates for his willingness to sacrifice his body and play through pain.
"Every team has one of those guys that they just love to have," coach Bruce Boudreau said. "He's not going to show up on the score sheet, but he's a defining part of the team."
The Saskatchewan native had plenty of motivation to be ready in time to suit up against the Oilers. Rexall Place is the closest NHL arena to his hometown, and there were plenty of Laing fans there Saturday night.
He found out before the morning skate Saturday that he would be making his return, so he sent a quick text message to his wife, and she alerted all of the people who were making the drive that they would be seeing him in action.
"I had all my family from Saskatoon come up and friends from Harris - it was probably about 30 or 40 people total," Laing said. "They drive all that way and you want to be in the lineup, so when I found out this morning I was pretty energized.
"When [the tickets] went on sale [about six weeks ago], I think they sold out in about 15 minutes, but I got 11 tickets for my family and everyone else was lucky to get theirs as well."
Laing played nearly 10 minutes in his return. He collected three hits and blocked a shot, and his line with David Steckel and Matt Bradley may have been the team's best while the rest of the team scuffled through the first 40 minutes.
"There were a few times when I got hit," Laing said. "Someone's arm would come up and hit my mask, and it would sting for a second. I would just check my bite and make sure it was OK and just plug on."