It was only the second game Quintin Laing played with the Washington Capitals, but goalie Brent Jonson had a simple bit of advice.
“I walked over to him and I said, ‘Honestly Lainger, if you keep doing that, you are going to be here,’ ” Johnson said. “He is my definition of a hockey player.”
That was in Sunrise, Fla., on Nov. 30, when recently named coach Bruce Boudreau put Laing on the ice in the final minute of a 2-1 game. The Florida Panthers pushed for a tying goal, but Laing blocked two shots in the final seconds to help preserve the victory.
Laing, a 28-year-old wing with three NHL games on his resume before this season, has made Johnson a prophet.
More than two months later, the minor league journeyman who was an emergency call-up because of an injury is now an integral member of the surprising Caps.
He has become a regular on one of the team’s defensive-minded energy lines. Laing’s willingness to put his body on the line to block shots has earned his teammates’ respect and made him something of a cult hero to some Caps’ fans.
Not bad for a guy who spent six years as a professional hockey player riding buses and waiting for a real chance.
“Every day that I am here is unbelievable,” Laing said. “I just go out that day and try to earn the next day, whether it is working hard in practice and staying late or it is a game and helping the team win. It is all about earning that next day.”
Laing’s grit, hard work and determination do not show up in a lot of places on the stat sheet, but one spot is blocked shots. Boudreau dubbed him “a shot-blocking machine” the day he was added to the roster, and he has lived up to that billing.
He has 37 blocked shots in 29 games, which is tied for 21st in the league among forwards. Only Ryan Johnson of St. Louis — who leads the NHL with 66 blocked shots — is averaging more, and the difference is less than a tenth of a block.
Laing also has 37 hits and is plenty willing to take part in the physical part of the game. While he has only one goal and five points, his +5 is tied for third on the team — an impressive figure considering he has barely played more than half a season and often matches up against offensive-minded lines.
“A few games in, we played Tampa Bay [on Dec. 15] and me, [David] Steckel and [Matt] Bradley played against [Vincent] Lecavalier’s line and we played really well against them,” Laing said. “We played over 15 minutes and Stecks scored a goal. That game kind of showed that if you can play against this line and play well, then you can probably play against anybody.”
There is a good possibility that Laing will be the team’s healthy scratch today against the New York Rangers.
He has missed only two games since joining the team — the first as a scratch when the team was close to full health, but Boudreau said it was tough to sit him and the second was because he could barely walk from the shot-blocking bruises he had collected.
Still, Boudreau made Laing’s value to the team pretty clear.
“Whether he plays [today] or he doesn’t, I can put him in the lineup and know I am going to get an honest day’s work, and that’s what you need,” Boudreau said. “Come playoff time, he’s going to be the kind of guy — I saw it last year and I saw it when he was with Norfolk — he’s going to be a difference-maker defensively.”
Now that his second chance in the NHL is more than two months and counting, Laing, his wife, Aimee, and their 20-month-old son, Hunter, have settled into the area. Playing in the American Hockey League is not a bad living, but Laing is enjoying the financial fruits of being in the NHL.
Should he stay with the team for the rest of the season, Laing will make a little more than $300,000 — a pro-rated portion of the league-minimum $475,000.
“Compared [with] last year it is a lot different,” Laing said. “A couple months is like a whole year down there.”
But don’t think he is taking this for granted or treating himself to any lavish purchases.
“No — just house payments, car payments and bills,” he said.
NEW YORK RANGERS AT WASHINGTON CAPITALS
When: 1 p.m.
Where: Verizon Center
TV/radio: CSN, AM-1500, FM-107.7
Goalies: Rangers — Henrik Lundqvist (24-21-5, 2.37) or Stephen Valiquette (4-3-1, 2.37). Capitals — Olie Kolzig (19-18-4, 3.07).
Injuries: Rangers — Out: RW Brendan Shanahan (hip, knee, groin, hamstring), LW Marcel Hossa (lower back). Questionable: D Marek Malik (knee). Capitals — Out: C Michael Nylander (torn rotator cuff), RW Chris Clark (groin), D Brian Pothier (concussion). Doubtful: D John Erskine (illness).
Outlook: Caps coach Bruce Boudreau shuffled the forward lines and the power-play units at practice yesterday. Washington has scored fewer than three goals in five of the past eight games. Viktor Kozlov returned to the right side of the top line and Brooks Laich returned to the middle of the second group. Recent call-up Eric Fehr was demoted from the top six. The results with the extra man (1-for-24 in the past eight games) must improve. … Rangers coach Tom Renney also may have a bit of a goaltending dilemma on his hands. Valiquette has pitched shutouts in his past two starts while Lundqvist, once a Vezina Trophy favorite, has given up four goals in back-to-back games.
— Corey Masisak