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.

PHT Morning Skate: Columnist argues McDavid’s already NHL’s most important player

Connor McDavid
AP Photo
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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Although Connor McDavid‘s NHL career has only just gotten started, is he already the league’s most important player? (Sportsnet)

While we’re on the subject of McDavid, what should we expect from him for the remainder of his rookie campaign? (NHL Numbers)

Jack Jablonski was paralyzed on Dec. 30, 2011 at the age of 16 while playing high school hockey, but that hasn’t ended his pursuit of a career in hockey. He’s spent the last two years hosting a weekly hockey-talk radio program and has now joined the Los Angeles Kings as a communications intern. (Orange County Register)

Arizona State has earned its first NCAA victory. (Arizona Republic)

The 2015 Calder Cup champion Manchester Monarchs got their rings. (LA Kings Insider)

The Anaheim Ducks and the Make-A-Wish Foundation gave 13-year-old Kai Quinonez, who was diagnosed with aplastic anemia four years ago, a tremendous experience. (Orange County Register)

Canucks spoil Ducks’ home opener via shootout

Adam Cracknell, Ryan Miller

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Ryan Miller and the Vancouver Canucks have already found a groove just three games into the regular season. The Anaheim Ducks are still looking for a way to get their offense going.

Radim Vrbata and Alex Burrows scored in the shootout, and the Canucks spoiled Anaheim’s home opener with a 2-1 victory Monday night.

Miller made 28 saves and Adam Cracknell scored in regulation for Vancouver, which beat the Ducks for just the third time in their last 12 meetings.

Vancouver improved to 2-0 on the road in the young season, with Miller yielding just one goal in each game. That’s encouraging to the veteran, who played in only four games after Feb. 22 last season while dealing with a knee injury.

“I’m just trying to go out there and battle and compete,” said Miller, who stopped a third-period redirection by Carl Hagelin with his mask. “That was my mindset coming off an injury. That’s what it really comes down to, getting back the focus early on. I didn’t play hockey for a while. The technical stuff I worked on this summer and I pay attention to in practice.”

Even with twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin combining for just one shot, the Canucks won the new season’s first meeting between the Pacific Division’s top two teams last year. Anaheim won its third straight division title, while Vancouver finished a surprising second before losing in the opening round of the playoffs.

Sami Vatanen scored and Frederik Andersen stopped 24 shots for the Ducks, who have scored just one goal while going winless in the first two games of a season that begins with Stanley Cup aspirations.

Anaheim was shut out in San Jose on Saturday in its opener before returning to Honda Center for its first real game on home ice since Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, when Chicago advanced to win the Stanley Cup.

Kevin Bieksa played nearly 24 1/2 minutes in his second game with the Ducks. Anaheim acquired the veteran defenseman from Vancouver last summer after he played 10 years with the Canucks, who drafted him in 2001. Bieksa was reunited with Ryan Kesler, the longtime Vancouver forward who moved to Anaheim before last season.

“We fought back a lot better than we did in San Jose,” Bieksa said. “So we need to keep building on this in the rest of this homestand here. If we do that, we’re going to be all right.”

After the Ducks failed to score on a power play during their first official taste of 3-on-3 overtime hockey, Vrbata and Burrows got stuttering, halting shots past Andersen, who stopped Burrows’ shot before watching it trickle under him.

“I’ve done that move a few times against a few goalies, but I don’t think I’ve ever done it against Freddie,” Burrows said. “So I tried it, and I’m lucky it went in tonight. It hit his stick and trickled in.”

Jakob Silfverberg scored in the shootout for the Ducks, who lost their home opener for just the second time in six seasons. Anaheim’s talented offensive players aren’t clicking so far, but nobody is panicking yet.

“I think we’re doing things the right way now,” Vatanen said. “We battled hard. We got some good chances. The season is long, so we’re going the right way.”

Both teams opened at a furious pace, with end-to-end chances throughout. After a scoreless first period, Vatanen got the Ducks’ first goal of the season when his long, low shot went through Mike Santorelli‘s screen.

Cracknell evened it later in the period with a sharp-angled shot that somehow deflected off Andersen’s shoulder or stick and landed behind the goalie. The journeyman got his first regular-season NHL goal since April 4, 2013, and just the seventh of his 85-game NHL career.

“Pretty fortunate goal on their part,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said.

NOTES: A small group of vocal protesters gathered outside Honda Center to call for the suspension of Ducks D Clayton Stoner, who faces charges in Canada related to a 2013 grizzly bear hunt. … Cracknell hadn’t scored a goal in his last 49 regular-season games, although he got a postseason goal in 2014 for St. Louis.