Groin injury remains issue for forward

Capitals forward Brooks Laich can play with pain. He has done so for years. But his latest health issue is a different story.

A groin injury originally sustained in late November while playing in Switzerland during the NHL lockout has lingered. Laich finally was cleared to start skating with his teammates Jan. 31 and was cleared for physical contact during practices Wednesday. But there is still no timeline for his return to game action, and that is difficult to take.

"It's the passion in my life to play hockey, and when that gets taken away from you, it's really tough to take," Laich said after Saturday's practice at Kettler Iceplex. "You try and do your best to get back as quick as you can, and sometimes there's things that are out of your control. And sometimes time is your enemy, too. It's been the hardest thing I think I've ever gone through in my hockey career."

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Laich played a Stanley Cup playoff series in 2009 with a broken foot. Late in the 2010 season, a puck hit the crossbar during practice and smashed into his cheek. He missed four games. Last season an ugly collision into the boards during a Feb.?5 loss to Boston looked like it would knock Laich out for a substantial time. He left Verizon Center on crutches with a knee injury -- and still didn't miss a game.

"But a lot of those are just about handling the pain, but you are still able to be effective if you can control the pain," Laich said. "The injury that I currently have is a little different than that. If I was on the ice, I wouldn't be effective for our team. I wouldn't be able to help our team win. And I would never go out on the ice if I was going to be detrimental to our team."

Laich was named an assistant captain before the season but hadn't felt much a part of things until recently. Washington coach Adam Oates said that was by design. With Laich progressing, it was time to get him into video sessions to get a better feel for the new systems and allow him to travel with the Caps, which he will do again Sunday when they play at the New York Rangers. But it was also clear in practice Saturday that Laich doesn't quite trust his body yet. And in a lockout-shortened season, any kind of setback would be disastrous.

"That's a huge, huge moment for any player when he's coming off an injury," Oates said. "?'When can I go to that next gear?' And we've told him to be precautious on it."

Laich would provide a big boost on the wing. He can play center and serve on both the power play and the penalty kill. Without him Washington has a variety of holes to fill. For now, surgery is not an option the medical staff is looking at, Laich said. He's going to try to play and can deal with that option later -- if absolutely necessary. But for now a player who missed four games in the previous five seasons must wait with no clear day set for a return.

"I've already [set a comeback date] numerous times, and it hasn't happened," Laich said. "So now I think if you do that and you don't hit it, you go through unnecessary frustration. So I'm trying to just be positive every day. ... It's been a learning experience. This is something that I haven't had a lot of control of, and it's been really, really taxing and frustrating to me."