Washington Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner (27) helps injured teammate Brooks Laich (21) off the ice during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Boston Bruins in Washington, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
ARLINGTON, Va. - The Washington Capitals awaited word Monday on the severity of Brooks Laich's left knee injury, a setback that comes at a crucial time in the team's hopes for a fifth straight Southeast Division title.
Coach Dale Hunter said Laich's injury was "not major" and that the durable centre was "day-to-day," but the coach also said that Laich had yet to be evaluated by team doctors.
"We'll see what they say," Hunter said.
Laich was injured Sunday when he was rammed into the boards on a clean hit by Dennis Seidenberg in the second period of a 4-1 loss to the Boston Bruins. Laich was on crutches and wearing a knee brace after the game and did not attend practice Monday.
Losing Laich for a substantial length of time would be a severe blow for the Capitals, who are already without Nicklas Backstrom (concussion) and Mike Green (abdominal surgery) and are in the unaccustomed position of fighting for a playoff spot deep into the season.
The Capitals are in ninth place in the Eastern Conference and have been a .500 team since Hunter replaced Bruce Boudreau in late November. Still, they trail the Florida Panthers by only one point for the Southeast lead—and the two teams meet with first place on the line Tuesday at the Verizon Center.
"We miss Backstrom, Greenie and now Brooks," forward Alex Ovechkin said. "It's tough. Right now we have to be ready to play much harder for those guys and without those guys."
Laich has 10 goals and 18 assists and is one of the most versatile players on the roster, a regular on both the power play and the penalty kill. He has also missed only four games over five seasons.
Hunter said it would take "a committee" to replace him.
"You don't try and replace him," right wing Troy Brouwer said. "Everyone's got to bring a little bit more in their games. It's not like we can tell a player to be a Brooks Laich."
Backstrom hasn't played since Jan. 3, yet he still leads the team with 42 points. Green hasn't played since Jan. 7. Neither appears to be returning any time soon. Ovechkin is having another subpar season, with 20 goals and 19 assists with 30 games to play.
It all makes for a more suspenseful regular season homestretch for a team that was a shoo-in for the playoffs the last few years.
"This time of year, we've been just kind of cruising and just kind of waiting, and not really evolved too much," forward Mike Knuble said. "So now this is the fun part. Thirty games to go, and we're going to play meaningful hockey games, and every night matters."