Laich offers support to big-name players aiming to get Caps back to playoffs Print
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Friday, 12 October 2007 10:07
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 Alex Ovechkin, Olie Kolzig, Michael Nylander and Tom Poti, will likely determine whether the Washington Capitals return to the playoffs after three failed seasons.
But fourth-liner Brooks Laich kept the new-look Capitals undefeated in Week 1.
Laich hadn't scored a goal since Feb. 27, a span of 20 games, and had only 15 in three NHL seasons when he hit the ice for a Columbus Day matinee Monday on Long Island.
With just over 12 minutes remaining in a tie game, Laich's 16th goal provided the winning margin in a 2-1 Capitals victory over the New York Islanders.
``It's definitely nice to be able to contribute offensively,'' the 24-year-old Saskatchewan native said. ``That's something I think I can do more of this season, show some offensive touch, in addition to playing solid defensively.
``I know my role is to be a dependable forward.''
If the Capitals are to return to the playoffs, and that is the driving force on a daily basis for Washington, they will need much more than big years from star players.
The Capitals outscored opponents 7-2 in jumping out to a 3-0 start - their best since the since the 2002-03 season when they last made the playoffs.
Laich had help on Long Island as Kolzig made 30 saves while Washington recorded only 12 shots at the other end. But his hard-nosed style in just over 12 minutes of ice time might've gone unnoticed by a casual observer if not for the timely goal.
It definitely wasn't lost on coach Glen Hanlon.
``His worth on this team won't be measured at the end of year by scoring 25 goals,'' he said. ``When a guy does everything you ask of him, and he scores a goal like that, there's a special place in your heart as a coach for guys who do that.''
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PRICE IS RIGHT: Carey Price has a flair for the dramatic.
Making his first NHL start in goal 22 years to the day after Hall of Famer Patrick Roy did the same, also in Pittsburgh for the Montreal Canadiens, the 20-year-old Price skated off with a victory.
Price - the fifth overall pick in the 2005 draft - earned his first win against a formidable lineup featuring Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Mark Recchi. He stopped 26 shots in the 3-2 win Wednesday night.
Outside of Mario Lemieux, Roy didn't face many superstars in his debut. The 1985-86 Penguins went 34-38-8 with Lemieux leading the way with 48 goals. Mike Bullard was next with 41.
But Wednesday didn't just belong to Price.
Brian Elliott kick-started his NHL career the same night and earned his first win - backstopping Ottawa's 3-1 win at Atlanta with a 27-save effort.
Elliott, 22, was the 291st pick in the 2003 draft. He helped Ottawa improve to 5-0 this season after earning a roster spot to back up Martin Gerber while No. 1 Senators goalie Ray Emery recovers from wrist surgery,
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this daily double marked just the third time in 25 years that a pair of goalies won their NHL debut on the same day.
The most recent occurrences were Oct. 9, 1986, when Philadelphia's Ron Hextall won 2-1 over Edmonton, and Pokey Reddick of the Winnipeg Jets defeated Buffalo; and Oct. 8, 2005, when Colorado's Peter Budaj knocked off the Stars 3-2 in Dallas, and Hannu Toivonen of the Boston Bruins earned a 7-6 win at Pittsburgh.
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NO SOPHOMORE SLUMP: Paul Stastny finished second to rookie of the year Evgeni Malkin last season, but started this campaign as the NHL's top star in Week 1.
The emerging Avalanche forward raced out with four goals and four assists in Colorado's opening three games - including his first NHL hat trick in the season opener. He closed the week with a one goal, four-assist effort against San Jose.
``Always in the past I've been a slow starter, but obviously you adapt and you learn,'' said the 21-year-old son of Hall Of Famer Peter Stastny. ``I learned a lot last year, and I trained a lot harder this summer thinking this year would be a lot harder than last year.
``Not everyone knows you. You can't get away with little things anymore.''
He has a good example to follow for second-year success. Sidney Crosby was the runner-up to Alex Ovechkin for top rookie honors in 2006, but was the NHL MVP last season.
Stastny had 28 goals and 50 assists while playing in all 82 Avalanche games during his rookie season, and broke the first-year mark by having a point in 20 straight contests.
And being a teammate of Joe Sakic's can only be a positive for his development.
``He's making sure I'm having fun out there, always saying little jokes about my old man when they played together,'' Stastny said. ``I think it's more of you just watch the way he presents himself, the way he is on and off the ice and you learn more from that than just asking him questions.''
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ROOKIE ROMPS: As of Wednesday, 37 players had made their NHL debut in this young season, including No. 1 overall draft picks Patrick Kane of Chicago and St. Louis defenseman Erik Johnson.
Kane, the 18-year-old chosen first in this year's draft, is already sharing the spotlight in Chicago as teammate Jonathan Toews - chosen two spots behind Johnson last year - scored on his first shot in his first NHL game Wednesday night.
Kane notched two assists in his first three games but entered the weekend still searching for his first goal.
Phoenix center Daniel Winnik took a harder route to the NHL after being selected 265th in the 2004 draft, much like Atlanta defenseman Tobias Enstrom, who finally made it to the show. Enstrom was picked 239th in 2003.
Of the 37 new arrivals, all but eight were chosen in the draft as opposed to signing as free agents.
 

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