There’s a general perception among Washington writers that forward Brooks Laich is one of the team leaders on the Capitals roster. So his new on-ice responsibility seems a natural fit: helping orchestrate the power play from the blue line.
“I don’t know – we’d been struggling, just not getting a lot of chances,” Laich said of how he wound up on the point. After a recent injury to defenseman Dennis Wideman, Laich said, “Bruce asked me if I’d like to go back there, and I said I’d give it a shot.”
It’s a departure from his usual agenda in fighting for blue collar goals in the crease, but a perfect storm of injuries and ice time created the void. Wideman, who is 19th overall in the NHL in power play time on ice, and Mike Green, another blueliner known for his offensive skill and the ability to quarterback the power play, are both injured, while rookie defenseman John Carlson, who has a similar skill set to Green and Wideman, is already shouldering enough ice time to lead the team (and all NHL rookies) in minutes played.
“Carlson’s getting too much ice time, and he’s getting tired, and you see the defensemen injured in almost every game in recent weeks, ” head coach Bruce Boudreau said of the decision. “And I’ve always wanted the left-right combination, rather than two rights, and Brooks is such a responsible person that I thought he could get back there and do it.”
The result is Laich, who also has some experience playing defense, now occasionally joins Alexander Ovechkin as the duo on the points for the extra-man advantage, playing the defense to Ovechkin’s forward.
It’s a rather ironic transition for this generation’s poster-child of going to the net in Washington, but Laich is enjoying the change – and the responsibility.
“Yeah, it’s entirely different for me, cause now I’m seeing the play, everything in front of me, which, before I’m not,” he said. “I enjoy it back there. It’s nice. It’s nice not to get cross-checked and slashed and whacked, and touch the puck a little bit more.”
And his years of being near the net have shaped the approach he takes to the new role.
“As a forward that usually plays in front of the net, all I want is shots, so I have that perspective when I’m back on the blue line – I just try and get the puck to the net as much as possible.”
Although Laich says he still thinks he can improve on his position, he’s already produced results at the new position. He had two power play assists in Thursday’s game alone, which ended up being a 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers in the last home game of the regular season. He picked up a similar assist Saturday against Buffalo and Tuesday against Toronto.
His key to success is typical Brooks Laich-hockey philosophy: nothing fancy, just common hockey wisdom.
“The main thing back there is just be calm with the puck, and make smart plays,” he said.
Capitals forward Jason Chimera was one of the Capitals on the ice for one of Laich’s power play assists Wednesday.
“Brooksie’s been trying to keep it simple, cause he doesn’t play back there too much,” Chimera said of the difference between Laich’s style on the point versus Wideman’s or Green’s. “We miss Greenie and Wides, obviously, but Brooks has been filling pretty nicely [in] for us. He’s keeping it simple– that’s the biggest thing.”