Brooks Laich hopped on crutches down a hallway at Verizon Center on Sunday.
A navy blue immobilizer on his left knee over top of his suit made the ensemble complete for the gritty Washington Capitals forward who was unable to finish the game.
Already burdened by injuries to center Nicklas Backstrom and defenseman Mike Green, the sight of Laich in visible pain was the last thing the Capitals needed. And despite every point being important to a team clawing for playoff positioning, a 4-1 loss to the Boston Bruins seemed secondary to the loss of Laich.
“He’s been playing a lot of minutes for us and doing really good. He’s an overall player, and he’s really good and we’re going to miss him if he’s out,” forward Marcus Johansson said. “It’s never fun to miss any player, but Brooksie’s playing a pretty big part right now. It’s going to be tough.”
Laich’s value to the Caps is immeasurable, thanks to his ability to play center and extensive minutes on the power play and penalty kill. He was rewarded with a six-year, $27 million contract last summer for a reason, and he was just beginning to find a groove offensively in Backstrom’s absence.
Laich was hurt when he was hit by Dennis Seidenberg with eight minutes left in the second period, his knee crunched between the Boston defenseman and the boards. Laich went down in pain, and the worrying began immediately.
“It just kind of looked like they kind of went knee-on-knee. Anything can happen in that,” Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said. “Sometimes it can go your way, and sometimes it can’t. Obviously, it didn’t go his way.”
Alzner and trainer Greg Smith assisted Laich off the ice, and he was visibly frustrated when he tested the knee out during a timeout and couldn’t press on. For the stubborn 28-year-old to come out of a game speaks volumes.
“It was just a little too uncomfortable at the time,” Laich said. “If I wasn’t going to be of any service to the team, then I was going to be a detriment to the team. So I wasn’t able to finish.”
Laich called that “precautionary” but deferred until Monday to make any kind of declaration on how his knee was doing. His sense of humor was intact, though, as he joked that all he suffered was an elbow injury.
“We’ll see tomorrow. I’m not a doctor, but these things sometimes there’s some swelling and you’ve got to wait to see what happens,” he said. “I don’t think it’s anything serious. In the past I’ve been a fast healer, so we’ll see when I wake up.”
The Capitals can’t afford to be without Laich for a significant amount of time. He’s second among forwards in ice time, averaging 19:23, and is the toughest skater on the roster to replace.
“Brooksie’s one of these kind of guys that try to do anything for the team,” coach Dale Hunter said. “If I want him to play the checking line, or I want to try him on the top line, I want to play him penalty-killing, he’ll do anything for the team.”
And he does everything for a Caps team sitting in ninth in the Eastern Conference and just a point back of the Florida Panthers for first place in the Southeast Division. That made Sunday’s defeat sting a little bit, though Tim Thomas’ domination (35 saves) was the biggest reason.
Any kind of absence for Laich will hurt for much longer.
“He does a little bit of everything. We’ve got to change things up then; a lot of guys are going to have to fill the void if he’s out,” Alzner said. “I don’t really know what the extent of that injury is right now, but he’s a pretty tough guy, so it has to hurt pretty good if he’s going to be out for a few games.”
The Caps’ next two games are against division foes, at home against the Panthers on Tuesday and the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday.
Note: Dmitry Orlov suffered a broken nose from a puck to the face Saturday and took another Sunday, but Hunter said he doesn’t think the young defenseman would miss any time.