Caps' Laich still feeling grumpy

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:40 PM ET

WASHINGTON – Brooks Laich has a new nickname.

"I’m getting called 'Grumpy,'" said the Washington Capitals forward.

The 27-year-old was at the veterans' skate on the eve of training camp Thursday wearing a Caps sweater and grim expression, still sour over the way the Caps rolled through the regular season last year and then were upset by the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs.

"The summer was miserable all around. That was a wakeup call. It was a humbling experience we went through, to find out you're not as good as you think you are.

"I couldn't ride the bike far enough or lift enough weights to get it out. People at home tell me how fun we are to watch and how we're going to be good again this year. I get sick and tired of hearing that. The guys have to know that's not acceptable, to be good and not win."

The Capitals might be the most intriguing story in the league this season. They return pretty much intact the team that was an offensive powerhouse in the regular season while winning the Presidents Trophy.

But the big question is what did they learn from their experience against the Habs?

Coach Bruce Boudreau knows it's the question his Capitals are going to face until next April.

"What did we learn? I don't know what we learned," he said at rinkside as the Caps skated in an informal workout in preparation for the first day of training camp Friday.

"You want it to be something profound. 'You can’t take anybody for granted?' We didn't take them for granted. We outplayed them for six out of the seven games. We just didn't win.”

The second-biggest question is whether the Caps have enough players like Laich, guys with a chip on their shoulder who took the failure against the Habs personally?

You have to wonder.

If he's going to be Grumpy, there are a few candidates to be Sleepy or Dopey.

The Caps are the deepest offensive team in the NHL and have lost none of the key players from last season's team. They cannot deny their personality or stop playing to their strengths, of course.

But the simplistic version of the Caps is they can't play defence when it counts; that their young, offensive core doesn't know what it takes to win in the post-season.

"We've got warts on us," said Boudreau. "There's not a team in the NHL that doesn't. Every team wants to keep doing the things it does real good again and get better at the things you didn't do real well.

“Every year you like to think your players get older and become more responsible.”

Laich, who surely has the personality to be a captain in this league, spent much of his summer brooding and seeking out the opinions of veteran players he knows and talking to the Washington coaching staff about how the Caps need to change.

"Maybe we're better if we score 20 goals less and give up 20 less," he said. "We have to be better defensively. We've been flashy and played for the fans. We have to be more soldier-like.

"When good teams play with the lead, they take you out of the game. They don't let you off the floor. We had teams down and we let up. (Changing) is not going to happen right off the bat, but by February or March, you have to know how to play the right way. The last two months of the regular season, you really have to have your identity down and know how to play to win in the playoffs.”

A solid message.

But the question that will only be answered come spring is are enough of his teammates listening?

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca


Videos

Photos