Brooks Laich, Chris Drury

A big new contract won’t hurt Brooks Laich’s world-class work ethic

Aside from Matt Hendricks’ astounding battle wound, it seemed like the Pittsburgh Penguins came across as the stars during the early parts of HBO’s 24/7 special, which only makes sense since the Washington Capitals were in the middle of one of their worst slumps in years during the beginning. Yet if there was one Washington player who pretty much always came across as a class act, it was hard working center Brooks Laich. (Then again, he already earned great press for helping a troubled motorist, so he’s probably just one of those people who radiate goodness.)

Perhaps the most critical remark you can utter about Laich is that the Capitals probably overpaid him this off-season by signing him to a six-year, $27 million deal. Laich brings plenty of likeable qualities to the table, but a $4.5 million annual cap hit is simply too much for a player at his level.

That being said, if you think that he’s going to rest on his laurels/get fat and happy from his big payday, On Frozen Blog features a story that dispels that notion with aplomb. Elisabeth Meinecke reports that while the Capitals’ off-season workout regime calls for roughly nine hours per week of effort, Laich averages about 24. Laich said that the turning point happened during the versatile center’s second season in the NHL.

Laich wasn’t always this way about his offseason training. In fact, he can pinpoint his obsession with conditioning—he phrases it as “messed up mentally that way”—back to the end of his second year in the NHL. He’d scored 7 and 8 goals in his first and second seasons, respectively. After that second year, he was walking into an ice arena back home when, Laich said, he realized, “I have to do something to separate myself from being a bubble player and try and realize the potential that I believe I have.”

From then on, instead of going into the gym at 9 am, he’d start at 7 am and stay till about 11 am. He’d make sure to be in bed by 9 pm, to the chagrin of friends. The season following that summer, however, Laich scored over 20 goals, and a conditioning junkie was born.

And, in quintessential Brooks Laich fashion, he enjoys it.

“I can’t wait to get to bed at night ‘cause I’m excited to get up …  I’m out of bed at 5:30 in the morning, ready to get to the gym, because I want to push it – I’m 28 years old, I should be entering the prime of my career.  I want to push it and see how good I can get,” Laich says. “Roddie and I sort of developed  a saying over the years, ‘It hurts you so long, you’ll be addicted to pain.’”

Really, the only downside I can see to this regime is that Laich might risk injuries by working too hard. That’s a great problem to have, though, and it’s honestly quite refreshing amid the series of entitlement-soaked stories we’ve been following this week. Maybe the Capitals are overpaying Laich a bit considering his skill level, but if his determination rubs off on teammates, it might be worth the investment.

Sharks scratch Flames’ big lead, Calgary wins anyway

Calgary Flames' Mikael Backlund (11) chases down the puck against San Jose Sharks' Tomas Hertl (48) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
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If you turned off Thursday’s Calgary Flames – San Jose Sharks game early, you’ll probably be stunned to see that Calgary won 6-5 via a shootout.

For instance:

  • A Sharks fan may have bitterly called it a night when Calgary went up 4-1.
  • Conversely, a Flames devotee might have retired after San Jose took a 5-4 lead, possibly with a broken remote.

The Flames only trailed for about two minutes before scoring the last “real” goal of the game, eventually taking their third straight win thanks to a shootout triumph.

It’s been a strange ride for Calgary, with its most recent win happening after Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Lance Bouma were punished with a healthy scratch. As strange as this game was, the “charity point” can leave both teams looking through a lot of film, yet with something gained as well.

Ultimately, the message may very well be: don’t sleep on these teams.

(In less positive news, Karri Ramo is injured, and it doesn’t look good.

Jonas Hiller closing out the game on a hot streak could be pretty important if Ramo’s out for some time.)

By winning fifth straight, Caps extend Wild’s slump to seven losses

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Alex Ovechkin scored three times in the second period for his 14th career hat trick, and the Washington Capitals beat the Minnesota Wild 4-3 on Thursday night.

Ovechkin, who leads the league with 34 goals, has 13 in his past 13 games. Nicklas Backstrom had three assists and Jason Chimera added an empty-netter for Washington, which improved to a league-best 20-5-2 on the road.

Braden Holtby made 33 saves for the Capitals, who won their fifth consecutive game and became the first team to reach 40 victories this season.

Charlie Coyle, Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund scored for the Wild, but Minnesota lost for the 12th time in its past 13 games (1-10-2). Devan Dubnyk made 29 saves for the Wild, who have lost seven in a row at home (0-4-3).

Ovechkin’s third goal, which deflected off both the post and the back of Dubnyk into the net, was upheld following a coach’s challenge. Wild coach Mike Yeo challenged that the puck had left the zone for offsides, but the call stood after a review showed that Backstrom stopped the puck before it crossed the blue line.

The goal gave Ovechkin his first hat trick since he scored four goals against Tampa Bay on Dec. 10, 2013.

It wasn’t the only fortunate bounce for Ovechkin on the night, and the five-time 50-goal scorer capitalized on each opportunity.

A shot from T.J. Oshie deflected off of Minnesota forward Zach Parise across the ice right to Ovechkin in the left faceoff circle and Ovechkin quickly snapped off a shot to beat Dubnyk, who couldn’t get across the crease to get into position. Three minutes later, Ovechkin scored on the power play when a point shot bounced off the end boards right to Ovechkin in front of the net.

The tally provided some relief for the Capitals’ surprisingly ineffective power play. Washington had one power play in its previous six games, an empty-netter for the only goal in its previous 20 power-play chances. The Capitals were 1 of 5 on the power play on Thursday.

Coyle scored for the fifth time in eight games in the second, but second periods have doomed the Wild during their slump. Minnesota has been outscored 13-3 in the period in five straight losses.

Suter scored his sixth goal of the season on the power play in the third as Minnesota went 1 of 5 with the man advantage.

NOTES: Washington C Evgeny Kuznetsov left in the third period after he was hit in the face by the stick of Mikael Granlund off a faceoff. … Backstrom has 20 points in his last 17 games. … Minnesota D Jared Spurgeon missed his second straight game with an unspecified deep bruise. Spurgeon has returned to practice, but was held out again. … Holtby is 27-1-3 in his last 31 games with two shutouts, a 2.10 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

Watch the Blackhawks’ Patrick Sharp tribute video

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Over the years, the Chicago Blackhawks have been forced to let some important players leave to keep their core together, which ultimately meant parting ways with Patrick Sharp.

The talented winger now wears a Dallas Stars jersey, so Blackhawks fans must face the reality of watching Sharp ply his trade for a formidable Central Division opponent.

Even if that might feel awkward, Blackhawks fans gave Sharp (and Johnny Oduya) a warm reception in Chicago on Thursday.

CSNChicago.com provides video of that ovation, which you can see in the clip above.

The Stars currently lead the Blackhawks 4-2, thanks in large part to Patrick … Eaves.

Ovechkin’s 14th career hat trick helps him make more history

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Death, taxes and Alex Ovechkin winning the Maurice Richard Trophy.

OK, the third thing on that list isn’t technically inevitable. It just feels that way lately in the NHL.

It’s unclear if the Washington Capitals can hold on against the Minnesota Wild, but we know for certain that Ovechkin already has a hat trick, the 14th of his high-scoring career.

(He also passed Jean Beliveau for 39th all-time in goals with his 509th, as NHL.com notes.)

This propels Ovechkin to the goals lead as of this writing, as he already has 34. As impressive as Patrick Kane has been, No. 8 is heating up, and may just edge No. 88 if Ovechkin can remain healthy.

One has to feel a little sympathy for the struggling Wild. They played well but lost against the Dallas Stars earlier this week and now must deal with Ovechkin and the just-as-hot Capitals.

Update: Minnesota managed three goals, but it wasn’t enough, as Washington got the edge 4-3.