Injured Brooks Laich leaves a hole in Capitals roster

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Sports,NHL,Capitals,Brian McNally

It appears at the very least that the Capitals must get through the final six regular season games without one of their most versatile players. And it could take a longer playoff run to give injured forward Brooks Laich enough time to recover from his latest groin injury.

Laich missed his sixth consecutive game when the Caps played the Toronto Maple Leafs at Verizon Center on Tuesday night. Whether he will return this season remains unclear. Laich will not skate again with his teammates until he is "100 percent pain free," according to Washington coach Adam Oates.

Laich had earlier missed 28 games with a groin injury originally sustained while playing in Switzerland during the NHL lockout. He returned March 19 and played in nine games before being reinjured April ?4 against the New York Islanders. Oates said before Tuesday's game that he considers a return in time for the Stanley Cup playoffs in the first week of May a legitimate goal for Laich. But he also conceded that there is no way to tell how the injury will respond and when Laich will feel at full strength.

That's a tough blow for a team that uses Laich to plug multiple holes in its lineup. He is a capable top-six winger when healthy, can fill in at center and can be used on both the power play and the penalty kill. With the addition of veteran winger Martin Erat via a trade with Nashville earlier this month, Washington replaced some of that versatility. But having both men in the lineup would provide a huge boost if the Caps hold on and qualify for the playoffs.

"[Laich is] one of our hardest workers, he's one of our most consistent players every night," forward Troy Brouwer said. "He's that guy that always wants to be on the ice, always wants to be involved. Maybe sometimes to a fault, he tries to do too much out of himself. But that's a good quality to have is you want a guy that wants to be used, wants to be in every situation."

- Brian McNally

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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