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Southeast: Laich's gutsy effort impressed teammates

by Mike G. Morreale /

"We need that type of player. To sacrifice your body to block the puck is the hardest thing you can do. I think in any sport to sacrifice your body like that is the hardest thing you can do. It's great."
-- Capitals captain Chris Clark, on teammate Brooks Laich

Washington Capitals center Brooks Laich could play another decade in the NHL and never again showcase the puck-stopping maneuvers he exhibited during one shorthanded sequence in his team's loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Nov. 20.

With less than nine minutes remaining in the second period, the Capitals were faced with a two-man disadvantage for 1:24. It was at that point that Laich did his best impersonation of an All-Star caliber goalie, providing the Caps' Brent Johnson with some incredible support.

With 7:49 left, Los Angeles center Jarret Stoll took a wrist shot from the high slot that slammed off the shins of a sliding Laich. Just 35 seconds later, Kings rookie defenseman Drew Doughty took a wrist shot from the just inside the right circle that Laich blocked with his left hand -- he had no choice since he was without his stick.

When there finally was a stoppage in play, Laich skated over to his bench to take a much-deserved rest. During his recovery, teammates Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, Donald Brashear and several others took turns expressing how appreciative they were of Laich's amazing shift on the penalty-kill. The Caps would suffer a 5-2 loss, but Laich's effort certainly didn't go unnoticed.

"If I'm not blocking shots, I'm pretty much useless out there," Laich told the Washington Post. "At the time it was still a pretty close hockey game (1-1)."

Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau was upset that Laich's tremendous effort wasn't rewarded with a team victory.

"It was unbelievable," Boudreau told "We didn't play very good, but when you show courage like he did on the five-on-three, you usually you get rewarded. (Laich) ended up scoring a goal in the third period and I don't know how or why it works out or even if it's divine intervention, but when you play like that and show that type of courage, usually good things will happen.

"What upsets me after a game like that is the effort Brooks put in wasn't rewarded. All he wanted to do was win and that didn't come true even though he was blocking shots with all parts of his body."

Birthday wishes -- Florida Panthers left wing David Booth celebrated his 24th birthday with his team-leading 10th goal of the season in a victory over the Carolina Hurricanes Monday.

Booth opened the scoring at 7:04 when he beat Hurricanes keeper Michael Leighton to the stick side with a low wrist shot off the wing.

"Even more than scoring on my birthday was the fact we were able to get that first goal of the game as that was our plan," Booth said. "We wanted to get a good start and I thought we had a great start. The key for us is crashing the net to get those goals."

Through 20 games, Florida ranked 20th in the League when scoring the first goal of the game, with a 5-3 record. The Columbus Blue Jackets had the League's best winning percentage when scoring first, with a 9-2 mark. The Panthers are 21st in the League with a .250 winning percentage (3-8-1) when allowing the first goal of the game.

Booth has scored twice since coach Peter DeBoer reunited him with Nathan Horton last weekend, and the 3-2 victory against the Hurricanes enabled Florida to climb out of No. 30 in the standings. Horton's assist on Booth's first-period goal was the 100th of his career.

Sex pistols -- Prior to snapping a three-game losing streak with a 6-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday, Atlanta Thrashers coach John Anderson offered Mark Knobler of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution a delectable anecdote.
Anderson and Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson were teammates on the Dallas Black Hawks of the Canadian Hockey League during the 1977-78 season. It was there, Anderson revealed, that they were hazed as rookies.

"Instead of shaving our heads, they kind of cut pieces out of it, so we looked like the Sex Pistols," Anderson said. "They called me Johnny Rotten. They called him Sid Vicious. I said hello to Sid today."

Anderson also recalled the night he and Wilson were so determined to watch the World Series on television while on the road, they changed rooms since the TV in their original room was inoperable. The following day, Black Hawks coach Gerry McNamara was angry.

"I checked your room and knocked on it a thousand times," McNamara said. "You guys weren't in. Where were you?"

Killer instinct -- Inconsistency on the penalty kill is one reason the Atlanta Thrashers have struggled this season.

Through 20 games, the club had the third-worst man-down unit in the League, at 75.0 percent.

"Our penalty kill does have to be better, a little more consistent," Thrashers coach John Anderson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "If it doesn't get better, we have to change the personnel."

Anderson has had Marty Reasoner, Eric Perrin, Colby Armstrong and Jim Slater on the ice during most penalty-killing situations, along with defensemen Ron Hainsey, Garnet Exelby, Niclas Havelid and Tobias Enstrom.

"(Penalty-killing) is getting everybody on the same page as far as what we're trying to do," Reasoner said. "It's getting in lanes and blocking shots and making sure the puck goes down the ice when you have the opportunity. It seems like we'll have two or three penalty kills where we'll be on the same page and we'll do a good job and then we'll have that one where it seems like everything goes wrong and it goes in the net."

The Thrashers didn’t allow a power-play goal for just the third time this season in a 2-0 loss to the Blue Jackets last week.

Positive steps -- Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Brian Lawton admitted last Sunday that interim coach Rick Tocchet has been doing "a good job" through his first four games behind the bench.

Then again, Lawton wasn't expecting any miracles, either.
"When you make a coaching change, obviously, the ownership is going to come to me and say, 'OK, what do you expect to happen?' " Lawton told the Tampa Tribune. "And the history is very strong that, typically, not much for the first 15, 20 games. So far, I think we've played harder. I think we've been more organized and more structured. But I still think history is probably accurate -- we have a lot of things to work on still."

One area Lawton particularly has been pleased with has been the renewed vigor exhibited by his defense.

"I think for me it's very simple," he said. "I don't like our forwards skating backwards through the neutral zone. I like to see our 'D' continue to be activated more -- just to be more aggressive. I like to see more puck pressure in both directions. Those are things Rick tracks with."

Tocchet admitted that, when all is said and done, each player will have a complete understanding of their role on the team.

"There won't be any excuses," Tocchet said. "Guys will know what is expected and what their role is, so once they hit the ice, all they have to worry about is to go play."

Quotable -- "We are going to be in big trouble by Christmas, for the playoff picture, if we keep this up." -- Thrashers defenseman Garnet Exelby, following Atlanta’s 2-0 loss to Columbus on Nov. 22.

Ice chips -- The Xcel Energy Center in Minnesota is the only current NHL arena in which Washington has not won a game (0-4-1). Additionally, Alex Ovechkin hadn't scored a goal against Minnesota in his career until Monday's tally. Ovechkin now seeks his first goals against Los Angeles and San Jose. ... Hurricanes center Eric Staal notched his fifth career hat trick Nov. 21 in a 5-2 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes and also snapped an eight-game goal drought in the process. ... Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau will be inducted into American Hockey League Hall of Fame on Jan. 26 during festivities at the AHL All-Star Classic Luncheon in Worcester, Mass. ... Thrashers rookie defenseman Zach Bogosian will be out for at least two more weeks with a broken bone in his lower left leg, an injury he suffered in Atlanta's 7-0 loss to the Flyers on Oct. 28. ... Lightning left wing Gary Roberts missed his second consecutive game Sunday with an upper-body injury and was placed on injured reserve retroactive to Nov. 19. ... Florida forward Cory Stillman, who signed as a free agent this past summer, has played one game since sustaining a concussion Nov. 2 in Atlanta, and he said Monday he doesn’t have a timetable for a return. ... On Tuesday, Lightning General Manager Brian Lawton hired former Lightning associate coach Mike Sullivan to again be an assistant coach. Sullivan, 40, who will work with the defense, played with Tocchet from 1998-2000 with the Phoenix Coyotes. ... Three Capitals -- Nicklas Backstrom, Mike Green and Brooks Laich -- spent part of their Thanksgiving Day afternoon serving dinner to underprivileged families at Miracle on Seventh Street at the ChopHouse restaurant in Washington. ... Florida right wing Richard Zednik could miss up to three weeks with a left arm injury suffered in the second period of his team's 3-2 victory over Carolina on Monday. Zednik was hurt after being checked into the boards by Carolina defenseman Josef Melichar.

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