Capitals forward Brooks Laich skated onto the ice Tuesday morning and felt relief. For the first time since Feb. 16, he could test the injured groin that has ruined his season. His return is not imminent. There are still full-contact practices to go through and even a return to game action is no guarantee that he will hold up under the strain. But it was a positive step back for a player whose struggling team needs him.

"I was either gonna come off and be in a good mood or it was gonna be a tornado," Laich said.

That's the nature of a groin injury -- as the Caps have seen with defenseman Mike Green. Laich was originally hurt while playing during the NHL lockout in Switzerland. He has yet to play a game for Washington this season. For a player who had missed four games in the previous five seasons, that is an unacceptable absence from the sport he loves.

Remember, this is a guy who was once scratched six games in a row during his second full season with the Capitals in 2006-07. Laich was so distraught that he told his dad he was thinking about finding a competitive mens' league game in Arlington. Harold Laich quickly dissuaded his son from that suspect idea and he eventually returned to the lineup.

"I was almost to the breaking point," Laich said. "I really enjoy playing the game and I really miss being part of the team. And to be able to get this sort of mind vitamin today gives me some more energy and a better attitude and hopefully gets me back in the lineup soon."

But not yet. Until Laich wakes up Wednesday morning satisfied he can return to the ice, there is no step forward. He did catch his skate in a rut and wobbled at one point during the morning skate on Tuesday and felt no ill effects. It's those little things that mark his progress.

"You always think you're right there. You test it out there," Caps coach Adam Oates said. "But until you have that hit that you don't expect, the test is really not real."

- Brian McNally