25-year-old Washington Capitals forward Brooks Laich has proven he is no hockey slouch.
It is not easy to stand out on team that features two former MVPs and the reigning one.
Yet, Laich deserves a lot of credit for creating scoring chances for the goal-happy Capitals.
He uses his body as a shield for the 95-mile-an-hour slapshots that routinely come directly at him.
And instead of complaining about the bumps and bruises, he says, “Give me more.”
The third-line forward is a weapon the Capitals can use to make this last stretch of games in the 2008-2009 season successful.
Washington (44-22-6, 94 points) holds a 13-point lead over second place Carolina (37-28, 81 points) in the Southeastern division.
They are in no danger of missing the playoffs, but have had a difficult March so far.
Their record in March is 4-5-1.
Before Tuesday night’s 3-0 victory versus the Florida Panthers, the Capitals looked like a team without fresh legs.
Now is the time for someone other than Alex Ovechkin to provide team leadership. Show the fans they are going to go deep into the postseason, because they are more than one player, they are a unit of offensive-minded skaters, mixed in with the blue collar work ethics of a strong checking line.
Coach Bruce Boudreau speaks highly of Brooks Laich’s ability to keep the opponent back on their heels.
“It is his determination that is most impressive,” said Boudreau. “But I still don’t think we’ve seen the best of Brooks. I think he’s going to be a 25-30 goal scorer for a while in this league.”
Laich’s best character trait was on full display against Florida.
Laich was killing off a penalty when he saw the puck end up on the stick of defenseman John Erskine.
Without hesitation, Laich bolted through center ice, knocked down Erskine’s pass, raced into the Panthers’ zone and netted his third game-winner this season.
It was his sixth short-handed goal of the past three seasons, the most of any Capital during this span.
His 18 goals (41 points total) put him on pace to join Ovechkin, Alexander Semin, and Chris Clark as the only Capitals since the lockout to record 20 or more tallies in back-to-back seasons.
“I think I can score more consistently,” said Laich. “Sometimes I get in too much of a rush. I try too hard. I try to do too much.”
“I talked to Bruce about it the other day and he told me: ‘Just read the play and relax. Have fun.’ Before, I was trying to score so badly that I was taking myself out of position and I was rushing things instead of relying on instincts.
"I know I can take my offensive game to another level. But if you look at the top goal-scorers, they never look they are they are in a rush. Everything just slows down for them.”
Laich was rewarded last July with a three-year, $6.1 million dollar contract extension.
His response to the sizable pay raise was to get hungrier.
He is the Capitals’ hardest working man. He has played in 175 consecutive games, the longest streak on the team, and he can play all three forward positions if asked.
Coach Boudreau is convinced he can make captain someday if he keeps up the steady play.
“Brooks’ dad was a teacher and then a high school principal for 34 years,” said Boudreau. “Brooks told me he is inspired by him every time he hits the ice, and understands that to stay consistent in this league, you can’t take a night off.”
The elder Laich missed three days of work in his life, two of which were to take care of his ailing mother.
Along with defenseman Mike Green, Laich has become a fan favorite.
One of his signature plays came at Verizon Center came last November against the Los Angeles Kings. The Capitals were attempting to kill off a five-on-three power play when Laich lost his stick.
There was no panic in Brooks’ reaction, as he went immediately to the ice and blocked a slap shot with his leg. Then he used his his hand to knock down another screamer seconds later.
Washington eventually lost the game 5-2, but the seed had been planted. Laich was praised by his teammates for his quick thinking.
NHL hockey can be a tough sport for the guys who don’t like to sweat. Thankfully, the Washington Capitals know No. 21 likes to dial it up a notch in every game.