Caps center Brooks Laich has been money in the face-off circle thus far this month. In Washington’s seven January games, he has won 69.6% of his draws, the best percentage of all pivots in the NHL during that period. Edmonton’s Jarret Stoll was second on that list coming into Thursday’s game with Washington, but Laich took two of two from Stoll and the Oilers center was just 8-for-20 (40%) on the night.
Goal scorers know when they’re on fire. Goaltenders know when they’re in a zone. But does a face-off guy know when he’s got it going on? I wondered, so I asked Laich if he had any idea he was leading the NHL in January face-off percentage.
“I knew I had been doing well,” he told me, “but a lot of that is that I’ve been playing with Brads and he has won me a lot of face-offs. [So have] Brash and Petty. [Assistant coach] Deano [Evason] has talked about that a lot lately, especially against the better teams. Against teams like Ottawa and Detroit, if we can get possession of the puck off of face-offs, we’re not chasing it as much.
“If you have a good night on face-offs, a lot of it is due to your wingers. Your wingers can make you go to 70% or they can make you go to 30% if they don’t win their battles. But I wasn’t conscious of being the best in the month [of January]. I knew it was something I had to try and improve on. Sometimes you go through hot streaks where you just can’t lose one. Sometimes you battle your butt off and you go 50-50. Hopefully, I’ll keep it going.”
Laich was also asked about his first period boarding penalty against Edmonton. He was in a race for the puck with the Oilers’ Kyle Brodziak on an icing touch-up. His response to the question is fairly illuminating, I thought.
“You know what?” Laich began, “I have no idea. First off, the D-man steps up on Brash so I’m thinking it’s a race for the puck. Secondly, I don’t hear a linesman saying it’s icing. If I finish my check, I get a penalty. If I don’t finish my check and the play isn’t an icing I’ve got a coach screaming at me and I’m getting heck when I get back to the bench. If I can, I’d like to have a linesman telling me, ‘Icing, icing, icing.’ Then I know just to go for the puck.”
Laich certainly wasn’t trying to hammer Brodziak. The two were teammates for a year and a half on the WHL Moose Jaw Warriors.