Washington has 20 games remaining in the 2012-13 season, and it will play the next four of those and seven of the next eight on the road. As they start a four-game road trip against the white hot Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh tonight, the Capitals will have two key performers from last season’s team making their 2012-13 season debut.
Exactly two months after opening night and 28 games into the abbreviated 48-game campaign, the Capitals will regain the services of both forward Brooks Laich and defenseman Dmitry Orlov tonight against the Penguins.
Laich suffered a lower body injury while playing in Switzerland during the NHL lockout that started in September, extended into January and resulted in a shortened schedule. His rehab was marked with fits and starts, but he made significant strides over the last couple of weeks and strongly hinted to reporters late last week that he’d return to the lineup tonight.
Never before in his career had Laich missed so much action consecutively during the course of a campaign. After this morning’s skate, he couldn’t contain his excitement at being back in the lineup and playing the game he loves.
“It’s mentally frustrating,” says Laich. “I’m a guy who takes a lot of pride in playing every day and not being able to do so was very tough mentally. But I’m very excited today.”
The 29-year-old forward has averaged 20 goals a season over the last five campaigns. Prior to this season, Laich had missed a combined total of only four games over the previous five seasons, all of them in 2009-10.
Laich believes that having played in Switzerland a few months back will make it a bit easier to return, but he also acknowledges that he and the Caps don’t have time to get him into perfect game shape.
“I’m not focused on myself,” he says. “I’m focused on the hockey game. It was a while ago, but I played 20 games already this season, so I have played hockey. It’s not like I came out of the lockout and haven’t played at all. I’ve been in season mode since September. I’m not too worried about myself, I’m focusing on the hockey game. It’s a big challenge for us playing a very good team, and we need to play a very good game.”
“I need to play and I need to contribute right now. That’s the situation we’re in. We don’t have the luxury of taking some time to get back into form. I’m expected to do certain things when I’m on the ice and anything less than that is not acceptable.”
After watching his teammates operate under new coach Adam Oates’ system for the past two months and 28 games, Laich is anxious to get on the ice and start playing it for himself. He’s already a believer.
“I think I’ve got a pretty good feel for how it works just having a bird’s eye view for a little bit,” says Laich of the Oates way of playing the game. “But I want to experience it. It’s different when you play, and the feel of the game. But also I am very excited to play in it. I really believe in the system and I think it looks good and I think we can be a very tough team to play against while also putting [opponents] on their heels and going after some offense. I’m just licking my chops here, trying to get in.”
Still on his three-year entry-level deal, Orlov started the season playing with Washington’s AHL affiliate in Hershey. But he suffered a concussion on Dec. 6, and only recently returned to the Bears’ lineup.
Orlov was impressive as an NHL rookie with the Caps last season, putting up three goals and 19 points in 60 games with Washington as a rookie last season. He played under Oates briefly at the start of the 2012-13 season when the Caps bench boss and his staff were helping out in Hershey during the lockout.
Washington lost both of his previous games this season to the Penguins, who have won nine games in a row and have allowed just five goals in their last five games. The Caps surrendered five power-play goals in just seven opportunities to the Pens in those two games, so they know that staying out of the box and having a diligent penalty kill are key components to getting two points here tonight.
“We’ve obviously addressed our PK and gotten a lot better at it,” says Caps center Jay Beagle. “With the new PK system it’s going to take a little bit. I think over the last 10 games the PK has been a lot better and it continues to get stronger. That’s a big part of the game and a big part of my game. That’s something I’ll be focusing on a lot tonight is to not get scored on during the PK.
Pittsburgh’s top forward trio of Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis has accounted for at least one goal in each of the team’s last 13 games. The Caps must also find a way to minimize the damage that threesome can inflict.
“Their top line is hot,” notes Beagle. “We’ve got to come in and shut them down early and play our system, make it tough on them, make them come 200 feet and through five guys.”Posted in: Sports
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