Capitals’ Brooks Laich takes defensive assignment in stride against Devils

Twenty-eight-year-old played first full game on defense

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Brooks Laich likes to skate with Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Brett Clark in the summertime and learn the position – just in case the Washington Capitals ever need him to slide back to the blue line.

“I really try to work on that part of my game, just for situations like this,” Laich said. “It becomes more of a mental thing, I think. You just have to make sure you’re in the right position and not complicate things.”

So he was only too prepared when the versatile forward found out Saturday morning that he’d be playing the first full game of his NHL career as a defenseman.

Thrust into that full-time role because of injuries to Mike Green and John Erskine, Laich thrived. The 28-year-old skated 23:26, which included lots of time on the power play and penalty kill.

“He welcomes these challenges. When we’ve done things like this with Brooks before, he just embraces it,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “We knew he’d do a good job.”

Laich filled in on defense in spot duty in past seasons playing for Boudreau, similar to what Sergei Fedorov did during his time with Washington. But Laich had never been penciled into the lineup as a defenseman and been expected to play there an entire game.

He was ready, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an adjustment.

“It’s definitely not as easy as our defensemen make it look,” Laich said. “It’s a tough position to play: Your face is in the glass quite a bit and you’re always being pressured.”

In Saturday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils, Laich not only took a regular turn on defense in five-on-five situations, but played the point on the power play and forward on the penalty kill.

When Roman Hamrlik, originally Laich’s defensive partner, was injured in the second period, it put a strain on the entire defensive corps.

“When Roman went down, I was a little worried – especially when you start taking penalties – because we were using Brooks up front killing penalties and then when Wideman took a penalty, we couldn’t do that,” Boudreau said. “We had to use Brooks on the back end. I was a little worried about the fatigue setting in, of playing him that much. He handled it pretty well.”

No matter what spot he was in, Laich felt comfortable. He lamented a team lack of success on the power play, but his contributions were vital in yet another strong penalty-killing performance.

That Laich impressed in this rare opportunity to play defense didn’t surprise Boudreau, who called Laich and Fedorov good students who could learn anything.

Laich made the grade – and saw it as a beneficial opportunity.

“Just as a student of the game, you try to pay attention to all the positions,” he said. “For me, it’s nice to learn it. I’ve never played a full game back on D [until Saturday], so I’ll take the experience as a positive and hopefully it’ll help me down the road.”

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