- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 13, 2013

TAMPA, Fla. | Brooks Laich has been cleared for contact, Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates said, but it’s still uncertain how long it will take the forward to make his season debut as he battles a groin injury.

Laich has not played this season after suffering the injury while playing in Switzerland during the NHL lockout. He has been skating with the team regularly as well as doing off-ice workouts.

The 29-year-old took part in Wednesday’s practice at Tampa Bay Times Forum and did some stopping and starting.

He appeared, however, to be in pain while doing so.

“I think it’s that type of injury it’s really difficult to figure out where you’re at,” Oates said. “I know [trainer Greg Smith] told me he’s allowed to have contact. I think it’s going to be a day-to-day basis evaluation because it’s one of those things where we don’t want to set it back, but how do we test it?”

Not risking Laich aggravating the groin injury is a delicate balance for the coaching staff, the training staff, the player and his teammates.

He’s not going to take big shots in practice, but he needs some to know if the groin feels better.

“We’ll get some drills where he gets to engage and minor contact,” Oates said. “Really, he’s going to be on the ice so guarded and protecting it that the real test will be when he gets that bump when he’s not expecting it.”

Still, progressing from just skating to taking contact in practice is a significant step in Laich’s recovery.

“I think it’s very big,” Oates said. “Obviously we got to get through some contact where he feels good, and then we know we’re going in the right direction. But I’m sure for him it’s obviously a step going in the right direction.”

Laich has been unwilling to talk about his injury when asked recently for updates.

Oates can empathize with the situation.

“It’s very difficult,” he said. “It happened to me twice in my career where I had an abdominal tear and it was very frustrating because you didn’t feel like it was healing and all of a sudden one day it was fine. There was no line that it went down.”

Chimera gets benched

Jason Chimera played just 5:43 in Tuesday night’s 6-5 overtime victory at the Florida Panthers because Oates said he didn’t think the veteran left wing had his “A-game.” Chimera’s only response to his benching was, “Well, we won the game.”

Chimera, who was demoted to the fourth line at Florida and then relegated to the bench for the majority of the third period, was back with Mike Ribeiro and Alex Ovechkin for Wednesday’s practice. That’s something of a show of faith in the 33-year-old who doesn’t have a goal so far this season.

“We need you to be reliable there,” Oates said. “If you are, great. I love what he brings; that’s really the message.”

When asked about the team’s struggles in certain aspects of the win, Chimera brought up Wednesday’s video session that made mistakes perfectly clear.

“It’s always good to see video and see what you did wrong,” he said. “Sometimes it’s tough to see when you’re up there on the video yourself, but you’ve got to kind of check your egos, which is good.”

Hendricks fights through

Matt Hendricks needed to have his nose reset Tuesday night after breaking it in the second period. It was the fifth time the gritty forward suffered a broken nose during his hockey career.

Hendricks brushed off concern as he wiggled his nose.

“A little bit of a problem there,” he said. “It’s all right.”

It came as no surprise to Oates that Hendricks kept playing against the Panthers.

“You know the hockey player reputation,” the coach said. “I expect that from everybody.”

Ice chips

Braden Holtby will start in goal Thursday night at the Tampa Bay Lightning, Oates said. … Oates had no update on forward Marcus Johansson, who’s not with the Caps on their Florida road trip. The team has called him day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

• Stephen Whyno can be reached at swhyno@washingtontimes.com.

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