Brooks Laich's Welcome Return

When the Capitals have been forced to go without Alex Ovechkin for extended periods of time this season, they've responded by picking up the offense and steamrolling over teams. The leadership is missed, but the lost offensive production is more than made up among the rest of the team. Somehow it doesn't work quite the same way when someone who is more of a role player, a self-described "jack of all trades", gets taken out.

And while it would be stretching it to say that the Capitals' recent troubles - 1-1-2 in their last four games - can be directly linked to the absence of Brooks Laich, being without the stalwart winger for the first time in over four years has definitely left a palpable void in the lineup.

Before being felled by friendly fire a week ago, Laich was riding a hot streak that stretched out over a month, with points in 18 of his last 22 games (11G, 11A over that span). He's fifth in goals, assists and points on a team with plenty of offense to go around, trails only Ovechkin when it comes to scoring on the power play, and has more shots on goal than anyone on the team not named Alexander.  As an added bonus, 13 of his goals and 11 of his assists have come in the final frame this year - something that might have come in handy as his team launched back-to-back-to-back comeback attempts.

Then there are the minutes he eats up, at all points in the game, and his work on special teams. He has the third highest shorthanded TOI amongst all forwards at just over two minutes game, and another three minutes per game on the power play (behind only Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin). Laich's 37 blocked shots are second among all forwards behind Backstrom, an asset that is sorely missed on a lackluster penalty kill that has become even more so without him.

And beyond all that is the stuff that can't be measured by numbers.

Laich may not have a perfect game every game, but its never because of a lack of effort. He's found great chemistry with a number of teammates and provides the perfect balance of grit and skill to the second line, playing the Mike Knuble to whomever his linemates may be on any given night and giving the Caps a dangerous one-two punch. He keeps the power play grounded when it gets too cute, and sacrifices his body when the team goes down a man.

He is the quintessential heart-and-soul type player whose absence can be felt when the team's performance lacks both.

As much as he's been missed these past few games, the one good thing about this injury is that it did force him to rest and get recharged for the playoffs. Laich would never willingly take time off - but the type of game he plays can take its toll on the body, and he'll be more valuable to the team going forward because of a little mishap in practice.

But even so, tomorrow can't come soon enough. Hurry back, Brooks.

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