Entering this season, Brooks Laich had played in just 60 of the Caps’ 130 games over the previous two seasons. So far in 2014-15, he has suited up for 23 of the Caps’ 38 games, including all of the past 17. This is noteworthy, as Laich had played in 17 or more consecutive games only twice since the start of the 2012-13 season (25 straight from Oct 1, 2013 – Nov 27, 2013 and 21 straight from Jan 2, 2014 – March 5, 2014).
Given how infrequently Laich has been on the ice lately, it’s understandable that some likely forgot, or even doubted, how effective of a player he can be when firing on all cylinders and groins (For the record, such doubts were not cast up in here). But the past 17 games have served as a reminder: A healthy Brooks Laich is a beautiful thing.
For the sample below, it’s generally Laich’s past 15 games are being used, instead of the 17 mentioned above. His first two games back were understandably so-so. Laich skated limited minutes on the fourth line as he shook off the rust. Fifteen games ago, Laich was united with Eric Fehr and Joel Ward on a third line that has mostly stayed together since.
Last week, I wrote about the Caps crashing the net on many recent goals. Getting to the dirty areas is a big part of Laich’s game when he’s effective. Both of Fehr’s goals against Pittsburgh on December 27th were possible thanks to Laich out-muscling a Penguin along the boards and then getting his body and/or the puck to the net.
Laich’s willingness to go to the net also shows up in the quantity of shots he generates from the slot.
On the left, you can see that the Caps generate 1.1 more shots from the slot per 60 minutes than the league average. At right, you can see that Laich generates 6.08 more shots from the slot per 60 minutes than the league average in 2014-15.
In general, a shot taken from closer to the net has a better chance of becoming a goal than a shot taken from further away. According to Tom Awad in Hockey Abstract 2014, the NHL shooting percentage on shots taken from 0-9 feet during the 2013-14 season was over 18 percent. Considering the league average shooting percentage on all shots is about 9 percent, Laich’s knack for generating so many shots from up close is significant.
Laich has been the Caps third best relative possession player over the past 15 games. During this span, the team has seen 2.9 percent more of the overall shot attempts with Laich on the ice than when he’s off. This is behind only Joel Ward (+3.2 percent) and Alex Ovechkin (+3.1 percent).
It remains to be seen whether Laich’s recent possession trend is an aberration or if he’s found a really nice home playing with Fehr and Ward. He’s been a positive possession player over the course of a season just three times in his career, and only once since 2006-07.
Seven of Laich’s eight points this season have come in his past 15 games, including three in the past four games. Despite this, his 1.3 points per 60 over the past 15 games is still tied for the second lowest among all Caps forwards. But one factor in this is that the Caps shot just 5.9 percent with Laich on the ice for the first 11 games of the sample, while the Caps as a team shot 9.8 percent over that time. As the team shooting percentage with Laich on the ice has normalized a bit, there’s been an uptick in Laich’s production.
Of the time the Caps have been shorthanded over the past 15 games, Laich has been on the ice for 41.1 percent of the action, more than any other Caps forward (only two others are over 30 percent). At first glance, this usage may seem unwarranted. Among Caps’ forwards, only Ward sees more unblocked opponent shot attempts when he’s on the ice for the PK than Laich.
However, the sample is heavily skewed by a couple of recent games in which the Caps’ PK had been under siege with Laich on the ice. On the season, he’s about middle of the road among Caps’ forwards in terms of pucks directed towards the Caps’ net during the PK. Considering Laich is often facing the other team’s first unit, that’s not bad at all.
When Brooks Laich is healthy, it’s a beautiful thing for this team. As he’s stayed healthy and rounded into form recently, he’s begun to remind everyone just how effective he can be for the Caps.
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