NEW YORK — Brooks Laich took a major step in his rehab from sports hernia surgery by skating with his teammates Wednesday, but the Washington Capitals forward is not close to returning to game action.
“It is playoffs and I do want to play,” Laich said. “I’ve always said if I can help the team I’ll play, but I don’t feel like I’m at that point where I can physically help yet.”
Laich denied having a sports hernia or sports hernia surgery. Two sources with knowledge of Laich’s operation confirmed it April 28.
The 29-year-old skated for more than an hour Wednesday but was limited. Laich hasn’t played since aggravating a groin injury April 4 and said he had skated a few times before Wednesday and was “unsure” on a timeline.
“He’s still a little ways away,” coach Adam Oates said. “He’s good enough to skate, just get out there and handle the puck. Obviously you can’t go full speed but get as many touches with the puck as you can.”
General manager George McPhee said he expected Laich to be back perhaps by the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, if not earlier.
It sounded Wednesday like returning during this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the New York Rangers was not likely.
“I had a game in mind for this series that I had sort of circled and I said I wasn’t going to do it before because it creates frustration when you don’t make that timeline,” Laich said. “I did it again and it doesn’t look like I’m going to hit it. I’ve got to stop doing that.”
The general time frame for players returning from this operation is four to six weeks. Defenseman Mike Green came back a month after his sports hernia surgery last season.
“He’s worked hard to get back as quick as he has,” Green said. “He’s still got a ways to go, but it’s good to see him skate.”
Right wing Joel Ward underwent sports hernia surgery this past offseason. His advice to Laich was to “be patient.”
“Mentally he’s got to stay in it, stay positive,” Ward said last week. “Him being here for the recovery part I think is better than him being at home on his own. It’s good just to be around the locker room, get treatment here, everything like that.”
Being on the ice with teammates represented more progress.
“To be able to skate and get some work in was very positive,” Laich said.
Laich missed the first 28 games of the regular season with a groin injury before returning to play nine. He has missed the past 14 after aggravating but learned a lesson not to rush back from his previous setback.
“Before when I came back in, we weren’t really in that great of a situation as far as where we were in the standings, so it was a little harder,” Laich said. “I was pushing myself to get back in the lineup, but then when I got back in I wasn’t as effective as what I’d hoped to be. This time it’s a little easier and a little more patient.”
Green missed time with a groin injury this season as well. The Caps went 9-1-1 to close out the regular season without Laich.
Remembering what happened last time, Oates doesn’t want Laich to hurry back just because it’s the playoffs.
“Obviously in the past year we’ve set ourselves back a couple times and we don’t want that to happen again,” Oates said. “So obviously we’re conscious of it.”
Ovechkin denies being ‘tired’
Alex Ovechkin denied being “tired” on New York’s Game 3-winning goal, as Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh said.
Asked about the McDonagh’s comment, the Caps captain said, “I feel normal.”
“I don’t know why he say that,” Ovechkin said Wednesday. “I think our line play well, we have solid chances but we don’t score. Of course they try to find something, if they winning they try to find somebody looks tired, somebody looks lazy, somebody looks somewhat bad. So I don’t care what he say.”
Ovechkin played 22:07 in the Caps’ 4-3 loss Monday. The issue, Oates said Tuesday, was more that a bevy of penalties interrupted the flow of getting Ovechkin consistent ice time.
The Caps spent 10:08 of the first 28:32 short-handed. Ovechkin conceded it’s tough on him when he’s not taking regular shifts.
“You just want to get into the game, feel the ice and when you sit five, six, four minutes, you kind of go out of the game,” he said. “Anyway, you just have to be sharp out there, do something, but do not squeeze yourself.”