TORONTO — Brooks Laich took a step forward Thursday, skating with the Washington Capitals for the first time this season as he tries to work back from a groin injury suffered in Switzerland during the NHL lockout.
Laich still has no timetable to return to game action.
"I don't know. I wake up feeling better every day," Laich said after skating for more than an hour at Air Canada Centre. "The more I can get on the ice with the guys, the quicker it'll be. As far as a timeline, I can't really tell you. I don't have an exact date. But getting closer and closer every day."
Laich could still be a long way from getting back into the lineup. He expects to continue skating with teammates and said he'll be able to take contact at practice when the Caps return home.
But the 29-year-old needs to take baby steps like Thursday.
"I moved the puck, played with the puck a little bit," Laich said. "It was pretty similar to what I've been doing, but a little more aggressive. It's not game-like but making passes and adjusting to pucks in your feet and little stuff like that's a little different."
Laich is known for being stubborn about injuries. But given the sensitive nature of groin problems, the Caps need to keep him from playing too soon.
"He wants to play tonight, I'm sure," coach Adam Oates said. "But we've got to be careful about it; we can't set him back."
Laich joined the Caps in Ottawa on Tuesday. He said he's been "pretty active" skating even while not on the ice with the team.
Laich said surgery was not an option. Defenseman Mike Green suffered a groin injury in November 2011, tried to come back in January 2012 and had sports hernia surgery soon after. Green has said recently it took almost a year after the operation to feel he was at full strength.
For now, Laich being back with the team marked some progress.
"He needs to probably, definitely, get a couple skates in and we can all now sit together and talk and [he can] get at the pace of the game," Oates said.
Johansson back in lineup
Forward Marcus Johansson returned to the Caps' lineup Thursday night at the Toronto Maple Leafs after spending the past two games as a healthy scratch.
"I think sometimes as a young guy you need that, to sit upstairs and see," Oates said. "He actually got to watch good games; our team played good hockey."
Johansson said it was a good thing to be able to see systems from a distance. But that doesn't mean the 22-year-old was happy about being out of the lineup.
"I want to play. That's why I'm here," Johansson said. "I want to play and it's not fun to sit out but it's his decision and I respect his decision. As I said, it's his decision, he's the coach; you've got to deal with it, learn and move on."
Johansson replaced Mathieu Perreault, who took two penalties in Tuesday night's loss at the Ottawa Senators.
Oates returns to Toronto
Oates got a chance to spend some time in his hometown of Toronto during Hockey Hall of Fame induction weekend in November, but Thursday was his first time there as a head coach. He expected to have some family and friends in attendance.
"I grew up watching Maple Leaf Gardens," Oates said. "I'm a Canadian kid; it's good to be back in Toronto."
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