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End of season review: Brooks Laich

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End of season review: Brooks Laich

Throughout the coming weeks, CSNWashington.com Capitals Insider Chuck Gormley will evaluate the 2014-15 performance of each player on the Caps roster. One breakdown will occur every day in alphabetical order. Today: Brooks Laich

Position: Left wing/Center

Shoots: Left

Age: 31 [turns 32 June 23]

Ht/Wt: 6-2, 197

Games: 66

Goals: 7

Assists: 13

Points: 20

Penalty minutes: 24

Plus-Minus: Minus-2

Average Ice Time: 14:43

Playoff games: 14

Goals: 1

Assists: 1

Points: 2

Penalty minutes: 0

Plus-Minus: Plus-1

Average Ice Time: 11:56

Contract Status: 2 years remaining on 6-year, $27 million contract RFA [2015-16 salary: $4 million; cap hit: $4.5 million]

Strengths: When he was averaging more than 20 goals and close to 50 points a season from 2008-11, it was hard to imagine Laich anywhere but on the Caps’ top two lines. But after missing parts of two seasons with groin issues, Laich’s greatest contribution to the 2014-15 Capitals came on the penalty kill, where he led all Caps forwards with an average ice time of 1:44 while shorthanded.  Laich said he felt as strong physically as he has since first injuring his groin during the 2012 lockout. “I didn’t put one ice bag on my groin all year and that’s the truth,” Laich said. “I had no issues whatsoever with skating or with my groin.” Laich missed 15 of the Caps’ first 21 games with a shoulder injury but played in all but one game the remainder of the season, sitting out as a healthy scratch on March 3. He finished the season with seven goals, his lowest full-season output since his rookie season with the Caps.

Room for improvement: Quite frankly, the Capitals need more production from someone carrying a $4.5 million cap hit. Laich’s ice time dropped from 14:43 in the regular season, his lowest in seven years, to just 11:56 in the playoffs, also the lowest in his career and well off the 21:54 he logged in 2011.  By the end of the playoffs Laich was playing on a fourth line and killing penalties. For that to change, Laich will need to either change teams or improve on his offensive skills. Laich said he will spend this summer working on his stickhandling skills and his shot, which he hopes will result in a greater role offensively.

Memorable Moment: Laich’s only goal of the playoffs came in Game 5 against the Islanders. With the Caps clinging to a 2-1 lead early in the third period and looking  to take a 3-2 edge in the series, Laich looped around the New York net, fed Jason Chimera for a shot and pounced on the rebound, snapping a rising shot over Jaro Halak for a 3-1 lead. The Caps went on to win beat the Isles 5-1.

Quotable: “My neighbors were out there watching practice and two young girls came up to me and said they need to do some community service for health class and they asked me if they could shovel my driveway.  You tell me I don’t love playing in this city?” – Laich on March 4 after sitting out a game as a healthy scratch

2015-16 Expectations: Don’t be surprised if Laich’s name comes up in trade talks around the NHL draft later this month. The Caps are looking to move salary in an effort to sign their restricted and unrestricted free agents, along with acquiring a top-line right wing, and Laich could draw some interest from a young team looking for leadership. If Laich returns, Barry Trotz will want more offense out of the soon-to-be 32-year-old forward. Twenty goals and 50 points might be a stretch, but 15 and 40 should be attainable.

 

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Wilson's return sparks Capitals to a 5-2 win at Minnesota

Wilson's return sparks Capitals to a 5-2 win at Minnesota

Tom Wilson stayed on brand in his return from a long suspension.

The Capitals’ big man scored a goal and took a penalty on the same play in his first game of the season, a 5-2 win against the Minnesota Wild Tuesday night. 

Wilson won’t get the 16 games back he missed for an illegal check to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. But he tried to make up for it in his debut. 

Wilson scored Washington’s second goal at 19:32 of the first period when he drove the net hard and deflected a pass from teammate Dmitry Orlov past Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk. But this being Wilson, nothing is totally uncontroversial.  

The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder was moving fast. There was no stopping him. Wilson, with some help from Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, collided with Dubnyk. The puck was already in the net, but the referee decided Wilson needed to go think about what he’d done after Dubnyk got clocked in the head. It was a two-minute goalie interference call. 

That’s an odd play rarely called. Either the goal counts or it doesn’t, but maybe because Wilson had already scored before running into Dubnyk both calls could stand. 

“It was a first for me to score and get a penalty on the same play,” Wilson told reporters in St. Paul. “I was just going hard to the net and Snarls [Orlov] put it right on my tape. It was a great pass at full speed. I was trying to do everything I could to get out of the way. I’ll take the goal and the kill went out there and got it done. It was good to see.”

It was far from Wilson’s only contribution in his first game back. He also fought Marcus Foligno at 11:58 of the second period on the faceoff after Minnesota cut a Washington lead to 3-1. He didn’t back down when asked to go by Foligno. 

“He’s a key player for our team, brings so much energy both on the ice and off the ice,” forward Andre Burakovsky said. “Huge lift for the team to get him back earlier. Didn’t expect that and I think he had a really strong game today. Obviously, he got the goal in his first game back and then some dirty works. Obviously, I think he’s a huge guy for us in PK and it showed today.”

Wilson didn’t get the assist on the goal that put the game away. Alex Ovechkin found Orlov for a one-timer on a pass from the left faceoff circle to the right. But it was Wilson driving hard toward the goal that kept a Wild defenseman with him and allowed Orlov the space to finish Ovechkin’s pass. Those little things have been missed in the 16 games Wilson was suspended. He was relentless. 

One big issue for the Capitals: The penalty kill. Wilson has been a big part of that group in recent years and without him – and, to be fair the departed Jay Beagle and the injured Brooks Orpik – Washington entered the game 29thin the NHL in penalty kill percentage (71.7 percent). Wilson wasn’t eased into anything. He played 5:23 on the penalty kill and the Capitals killed five of six Wild power plays. 

[Wilson] does a lot not just on the ice, but in our room. Adds a ton of energy. Well respected player for how he trains,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden. “Going through a tough time and obviously kind of a surprise for us to get him back today. We were hoping to at any point here and we were able to take advantage of a fortunate bounce for our team before even the game started. But I didn’t expect him to have as strong a game as he did." 

"Obviously able to convert on a great play on a line rush, but just the other things he did. Our penalty kill, the opposition scores a goal and, you talk about shifts after goals, not giving the team any more momentum than they’ve already gotten and he gets in a fight there. There’s a lot to like about Tom Wilson and I thought he had a strong game. It was great to have him back.”

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4 reasons the Capitals beat the Wild

4 reasons the Capitals beat the Wild

Think the Caps missed Tom Wilson? It sure looked like it.

Washington looked like a completely different team with Wilson back in the lineup Tuesday in a dominant 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild.

Here are four reasons the Caps won:

Tom Wilson

Wilson made his season debut Tuesday after his suspension was reduced by a neutral arbitrator earlier in the day. Wilson’s addition to the lineup had two effects. One, it made the lineup a lot deeper. Without Wilson, Todd Reirden was having trouble putting together the right lineup. Several players cycled on the top line and every line behind the top had to shuffle. Wilson came back onto the top line and immediately the rest of the lineup fell into place.

The top line looked better, the second line looked better and the third line looked better with their regular lineups back intact.

Wilson’s return also brought a lot of energy to the team and that was evident from the very start of the game. The Caps outshot Minnesota 12-6 and took the 2-0 lead in the first period of the game. Compare that to the rather lethargic game we saw on Sunday, clearly, Wilson brought a spark.

Oh, yeah, Wilson has also had a pretty darn good game too. He scored in the first period of the game in a typical Wilson play. He completely blew past Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter and tipped in a pass from Dmitry Orlov as he crashed the net on goalie Devan Dubnyk.

Somehow Wilson was also given a goalie interference penalty… but the goal still counted? Regardless of what was an obvious reputation penalty, it was a good return for Wilson, who also had a fight with Marcus Foligno and helped set up Orlov’s second goal by crashing again and drawing the defense over to him.

Dmitry Orlov

Orlov broke a 19-game goal drought with a goal just 7:23 into the game.

Lars Eller had the puck and cut to the blue line in the offensive zone turning to the middle. Minnesota got caught puck watching as the defense shifted with Eller, leaving Orlov open on the left. Eller found him and Orlov took advantage of the extra space to score his first goal of the season.

Orlov would add an assist on Wilson’s goal and a second goal in the third period off a beautiful pass from Alex Ovechkin.

The typically reliable defensive pairing of Orlov and Matt Niskanen struggled at the start of the season prompting Todd Reirden to switch up the pairs and place Orlov with John Carlson. Clearly, the move had the desired effect in Tuesday’s game.

The schedule

Tuesday’s game was the Wild’s first at home since Oct. 27. Minnesota was coming off a seven-game road swing and they looked a bit weary at the start of the game. As mentioned above, the Wild were outshot 12-6 in the first period and then 15-8 in the second.

Really, this game was a perfect storm. Not only were the Wild tired from a lengthy road trip, but they also were dealing with a Caps team that was pumped up by the return of Wilson.

Part of what made Sunday’s loss to Arizona so disappointing was the fact that the Coyotes were on the second leg of a back-to-back with their starting goalie on IR. The Caps were not able to take advantage, but they certainly took it to a vulnerable, road-weary team on Tuesday.

The penalty kill

Washington’s porous penalty kill was the reason the Caps lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets Friday and a major reason they fell to Arizona. The PK finally stood tall on Tuesday as the Caps were able to kill off four out of five penalties on the night. The lone power play goal the team gave up came in the third period when the Caps were already up 5-1 and the game was no longer in doubt.

You can add the penalty kill to the long list of things that Wilson instantly improved in his return. Wilson logged 16:47 of total ice time on Tuesday and 5:23 of that came on the penalty kill.

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