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Laich the Penalty Kill? Hopefully You Will Soon.

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Where one Caps' return to the lineup is Laichly, er, likely to make the biggest impact

Photo by Clyde Caplan/clydeorama.com

After missing the last six games with a shoulder injury, Brooks Laich has declared himself healthy (yes, again) and says he plans on returning to the Caps lineup tonight in Chicago, resuming his frequent role as Jason Chimera and Joel Ward 's center on the third line.

And while Laich has proven himself to be versatile and, at times, productive, it would be a stretch to say that Laich's absence has been a major contributor to the Caps' current five-game losing streak.

Or would it?

Laich's 20-goal seasons would appear to be even further in the rear-view mirror than his iron-man campaigns, but one area in which his impact is still felt is on the penalty kill. To wit, Laich logs the most ice time of any forward on the man-down unit, and the Caps' penalty kill went 18-for-20 (90%) in the five games he's played this season and just 16-for-23 (69.6%) in those he hasn't. (Oh, and he wasn't on the ice for either of the goals the Caps' kill allowed when he was playing, either - he's skated 13:57 of spotless shorthanded shifts so far.)

Small samples? Of course. Mixed opposition? Sure.

But dig a little deeper and there may well be some "there" there. Take a look (all data via war-on-ice):

TS PPGA PK% Corsi-Against/60 Fenwick-Against/60 Shots-Against/60
Laich - - - 92.05 56.03 32.02
Games with Laich 20 2 90.0 105.27 62.13 41.42
Games without Laich 23 7 69.6 106.55 84.85 53.27

What's particularly interesting are those last three columns - the Caps do a much better job at shot suppression with Laich in the lineup and killing penalties, and Laich has a lot to do with it. Here's how it looks, visually (bubble size corresponds to ice time totals):

Laich PK

(Jay Beagle. Woof.)

Anyway, these samples are tiny. And truth be told, assessing individual shorthanded contributions isn't exactly a strong point for advanced metrics. But it's abundantly clear that the Caps have been better at killing penalties - both in terms of process and outcomes - with Brooks Laich in the lineup.

They've also been better at winning games with Laich in the lineup - the Caps are 3-0-2 when he draws in and 1-5-1 when he doesn't suit up. Though these results are certainly more correlation than causation, maybe it's not outlandish to think that a healthy Laich would have helped hold Vancouver or Arizona to fewer than two power-play goals and maybe this losing streak wouldn't be at five games... and counting.

Regardless, when Laich does get back in the lineup, it should be a boon to the Caps' penalty kill and that, in turn, should be a boon to the team's chances to win games.