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Capitals' Laich looking to start at top speed

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates repeatedly has asserted that he plans on easing forward Brooks Laich back into the lineup when his recovery from a groin injury is complete.

Now that the time has come for Laich to make his season debut, Washington's alternate captain isn't interested in slowly working his way into the lineup.

"We don't have the luxury of taking the time to get back into form," Laich said Tuesday in advance of the Capitals' game against the Pittsburgh Penguins (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2). "I'm expected to be certain things when I'm on the ice, and anything less than that is not acceptable."

Laich has been activated from injured reserve and will play against the Penguins. It will be his first game action since November, when he injured his groin playing for a team in Switzerland.

"I have been in 'season mode' since September," Laich said. "I just want to make a seamless transition to be part of the team. I don't want this to be any sort of distraction to the guys or anything -- I'm just going to come in, play my game and try to contribute to a win."

Across the Capitals' locker room, it was clear Laich's return was welcomed. Washington (12-15-1) entered Tuesday seven points out of the Eastern Conference's eighth Stanley Cup Playoff spot.

"He's obviously one of our leaders," forward Troy Brouwer said. "He's been around for a long time and the guys really respect his hard work and how he approaches the game.

"He's tough to replace on the ice, but also in the room. He's got a lot of passion in his game and loves playing hockey and that definitely shows when he's on the ice and competing."

Laich's value goes beyond the points (his 41 last season were sixth on the team, his 16 goals tied for fifth). His 18:29 of average ice time per game last season ranked third among Capitals forwards, behind Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

Laich also was Washington's top penalty-killing forward and saw significant power-play time.

"It means a lot to have him back," Backstrom said. "He's a great player, a great two-way player. He works hard and goes to those dirty areas. He's a great teammate too."

As part of Oates' strategy to ease him back into game action, Laich will skate on the Capitals' fourth line against the Penguins, with Jay Beagle at center and Matt Hendricks at right wing.

To create room on the active roster for Laich, the Capitals placed defenseman Tom Poti on injured reserve. Poti left Washington's win against the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday early because a back injury flared up.

That continued the revolving door of injured defensemen on the team, which already was without John Erskine (left arm), Mike Green (groin) and Tomas Kundratek (right knee).

Kundratek was placed on injured reserve Monday when the team recalled Dmitry Orlov from Hershey of the American Hockey League. Oates said Tuesday he is hopeful Erskine can return to play one of the team's two games at the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday and Friday. He also said he was optimistic Green will play at some point during the four-game road trip that starts Tuesday.

Orlov, 22, will make his season debut Tuesday after missing three months because of a concussion. The second-round pick in the 2009 NHL Draft had 19 points in 60 games with the Capitals last season. He had 12 points in 22 AHL games.

"He's very skilled and he's a great skater," Washington defenseman John Carlson said. "When he's moving his feet he sees the play really well, and I think in this day and age if you have that attribute as a defenseman to move the puck and get it up ice, it makes it harder on [the opponent], and easier on our forwards."

We had the Penguins' lineup earlier; here is how the Capitals likely will line up when they face the Penguins:

Marcus Johansson - Nicklas Backstrom - Alex Ovechkin

Eric Fehr - Mike Ribeiro - Troy Brouwer

Jason Chimera - Mathieu Perreault - Joel Ward

Brooks Laich - Jay Beagle - Matt Hendricks

Karl Alzner - Steve Oleksy

Jack Hillen - John Carlson

Jeff Schultz - Dmitry Orlov

Braden Holtby

Michal Neuvirth

Scratched: Joey Crabb, Aaron Volpatti, Wojtek Wolski

Injured: John Erskine (arm), Mike Green (groin), Tomas Kundratek (knee), Tom Poti (back)

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