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Laich out to prove his worth to Capitals

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Laich out to prove his worth to Capitals

Brooks Laich says he doesn’t need any extra motivation from his coach or general manager or the scores of fans who want more production from the 32-year-old forward.

“I put more pressure on myself than anybody does,” said Laich, who has scored just 16 goals in his past three injury-riddled seasons.

“I’ve had good success here playing for this team and I want to get back to that level. I want to get back to leaving the rink and feeling the way I used to feel – not just being a part player but being a driving element on the team. I really feel my health is there, my legs are there.”

Laich’s career took a turn for the worse during the 2012-13 lockout when he injured his groin during the second year of his six-year, $27 million contract.  He played in just nine games for the Caps that season and was limited to eight goals in 51 games the following season.

Last season, an early shoulder injury limited Laich to seven goals in 66 games, a far cry from the 20-goal, 48-point averages Laich put up for the Caps from 2007-12.

“We have expectations for him and he has high expectations,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “He did a really good job with that (Eric) Fehr line last year and did a great job on the penalty kill. We just need a little more production from him I think. He’s been a 40-50-point guy. He still skates well enough and he still has enough skill that he wants to be a more productive guy and find the back of the net.”

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Caps general manager Brian MacLellan was even more direct.

“We need more offense, more plays, more goals, more production from him,” MacLellan said. “He’s struggled through some injuries and we’ve been patient with him coming back and hopefully we get a little bit more out of him this year.”

To that end, Laich said he worked extensively on his hand skills over the summer, even reverting back to the curve on his stick that he used years ago.

“I still am fully confident in myself and my game,” Laich said. “That doesn’t change. I had a bumpy road with some injuries but this year coming to camp I’m 100 percent healthy. My legs feel great on the ice. I’m just excited to be back playing hockey and I want to get back to being the player that I expect of myself, the player I was known for around here and the player I want to be.”

Laich is starting off training camp centering a line with veteran left wing Jason Chimera and Tom Wilson and said he’s excited to go back to his roots as a centerman, even if it turns out to be a preseason experiment.

“I want a lot of responsibility,” he said. “I want to play with speed, shoot the puck, make my teammates better. I’ll have different assignments, but every night I want to have the mindset that even with defensive assignment I want to get shots and I want to get chances and ultimately produce. It’s a big year for myself. I have thought about it a lot and I have some goals in mind.”

Laich did not reveal those goals, but a 40-point season seems like a realistic one to set. But as the longest tenured professional athlete in D.C., there is another goal Laich is aching to achieve and that’s a Stanley Cup.

“There’s still a lot of hurt from last year,” he said. “I thought we really had a contending team and you’re one goal away from the conference final.

“Every year you exhale at the end of the season and when you come back it’s fresh air. There’s so much potential on this team. But we’re tired of talking about potential. We want to realize that and put results on the board.”

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A personal best is on the line Saturday against the Sabrs for Alex Ovechkin

A personal best is on the line Saturday against the Sabrs for Alex Ovechkin

There’s no rest for the weary as the Capitals return to action on Saturday just one night after a win over the Carolina Hurricanes. On Saturday, Washington returns home to host the Buffalo Sabres (7 p.m., NBC Sports Washington) looking for their fifth straight win.

Here are five things to watch:

Ovechkin’s best season ever?

Ovechkin tied his career-best 13-game point streak on Friday and will look to surpass it on Saturday…at the age of 33.

Ovechkin has been absolutely dominant over the last 13 games with 16 goals and 22 points and he has six goals in his past two games with consecutive hat tricks.

If Ovechkin does make it to 14 games then it’s time to start looking ahead to the franchise record. Yes, there are still some franchise records that Ovechkin has not yet broken. The team record for most consecutive games with at least a point belongs to Mike Gartner who strung together a point streak of 17 games twice over the course of his Caps career.

The Pheonix rises…probably

After Braden Holtby got the start on Friday, Pheonix Copley is expected to get the start for Saturday’s game. It will be his first start since winning on Dec. 6 against the Arizona Coyotes.

Copley has been a pleasant surprise in net. Backup goaltending was thought to be a weakness for the Caps this season with the departure of Philipp Grubauer, but Copley has compiled a record of 6-2-1 over 10 appearances.

In his last start, he saved 27 of 29 shots for a save percentage of .931. He will have his hands full Saturday trying to keep Jeff Skinner off the board. The former Carolina Hurricane has found new life in Buffalo and is third in the league in goals with 22.

Should we be worried about the PK?

After not allowing a power play goal in the last three games, Washington almost saw their win streak come to an end in Carolina as the penalty kill gave up three goals on six power plays to the Hurricanes.

Saturday’s game should be a good chance for the PK to get back on track as Buffalo ranks only 19th on the power play at 18.4-percent. There are certainly weapons the Caps need to account for with Skinner and Jack Eichel out on the ice, but this game should be a good litmus test to see if the penalty kill took a step back or if Friday’s game was just a blip on the radar.

Burakovsky back?

Andre Burakovsky has been a healthy scratch for the last two games, but a back-to-back could give Todd Reirden a chance to get him back in the lineup. Burakovsky has responded well to these scratches in the past and always looks offensively dangerous whenever he returns. There’s more on the line this season than just playing time, however, as he is on the final year of his current contract. If he does get into the lineup Saturday, he needs to perform.

Everybody’s going streaking!

The Caps have gone 11-2-0 over their last 13 games and have scored three goals or more in each of those games, the longest streak for the team since 2010 when they did it for 23 games from January to March.

When the team is finding that much offensive success, it’s no surprise that many of the team’s players are also enjoying hot streaks of their own besides Ovechkin.

Evgeny Kuznetsov is currently enjoying the quietest seven-game point streak you will ever witness as he has tallied one goal and eight assists over that stretch. Travis Boyd is also in the midst of a three-game goal streak with the first three goals of his NHL career. In fact, the entire fourth line of Boyd, Nic Dowd and Dmitrij Jaskin is red-hot with 16 points in the last six games.

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Jonas Siegenthaler earns first NHL point and plays like he belongs in win over Carolina

Jonas Siegenthaler earns first NHL point and plays like he belongs in win over Carolina

The Capitals released the unfortunate news on Friday that defenseman Christian Djoos is out indefinitely after undergoing a surgical procedure in his left thigh. It is rare that a team can lose one of its top-six defensemen and not miss a beat, but if Friday’s game is any indication, the Caps will be just fine with keeping Jonas Siegenthaler in the lineup.

“He’s got a pretty calm mentality and I think he’s found ways to ramp it up a bit to play in the NHL level,” Braden Holtby told reporters Friday. “It’s a good quality to have.”

Siegenthaler turned in another strong performance in Friday’s win over the Carolina Hurricanes, just the sixth NHL game of his career. He also recorded his first career point, a primary assist on Alex Ovechkin’s first goal.

The rookie defenseman grabbed the puck at the blue line in the first period and skated in. Ovechkin turned his body to face Siegenthaler and held his stick up waiting for the one-timer. Siegenthaler fed him the puck which Ovechkin rocketed past goalie Scott Darling.

Ovechkin made sure to grab the puck as a keepsake for the rookie on his first point.

The assist was Siegenthaler’s only point of the night, but he was also instrumental in setting up Ovechkin’s second goal of the game.

Ovechkin held the puck near the blue line, closely guarded by defenseman Dougie Hamilton. Siegenthaler crossed in front of Ovechkin and knocked into Hamilton which opened up plenty of space for Ovechkin to make a play.

To be fair, the call could have easily been called for interference and Carolina head coach Rod Brind’Amour voiced his displeasure to the referees over the no-call on the bench. At best it was a pick play, but considering the erroneous holding penalty Ovechkin was called for earlier in the second which resulted in a goal for the Hurricanes, things certainly leveled out.

Siegenthaler’s play on Ovechkin’s second goal was notable because that is more of the type of impact you can expect to see from him. He is a physical presence on the ice and he’s not afraid to show it despite only being a rookie. Just as importantly, however, is that he also is not reckless with it.

Young, physical players can often make the mistake of being too timid when they enter the NHL, thus negating a strength of their game, or they can be reckless with throwing their body around leading to mistakes such as taking bad penalties or playing out of position to make a hit. Siegenthaler has done neither since getting recalled and his steady demeanor on the blue line certainly has caught the attention of his netminder.

“He doesn’t panic or anything and he’s making quicker plays now too,” Holtby said. “He’s got an NHL talent, that’s for sure. He’s still extremely young and the way he’s playing, he’s going to be a really good D-man. He’s already there. He’s filled in really well.”

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