Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates repeatedly has asserted that he plans on easing forward Brooks Laich back into the lineup when his recovery from a groin injury was complete.

Now that the time has come for Laich to make his season debut, Washington's alternate captain isn't interested in slowly working his way into the lineup.

"We don't have the luxury of taking the time to get back into form," Laich said Tuesday, in advance of the Capitals' game against the Pittsburgh Penguins (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN2). "I'm expected to be certain things when I'm on the ice, and anything less than that is not acceptable."

Laich has been activated from injured reserve and will play against the Penguins. It will be his first game action since November, when he injured his groin playing for a team in Switzerland.

"I have been in 'season mode' since September," Laich said. "I just want to make a seamless transition to be part of the team. I don't want this to be any sort of distraction to the guys or anything -- I'm just going to come in, play my game and try to contribute to a win."

Across the Capitals' locker room, it was clear Laich's return was welcomed. Washington (12-15-1) entered Tuesday seven points out of the Eastern Conference's eighth and final playoff spot.

"He's obviously one of our leaders," forward Troy Brouwer said. "He's been around for a long time and the guys really respect his hard work and how he approaches the game.

"He's tough to replace on the ice, but also in the room. He's got a lot of passion in his game and loves playing hockey and that definitely shows when he's on the ice and competing."

Laich's value goes beyond the points (his 41 last season were sixth on the team, his 16 goals tied for fifth). His 18:29 of average ice time per game last season ranked third among Capitals forwards, behind only stars Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

Laich also was Washington's top penalty-killing forward and saw significant power-play time.

"It means a lot to have him back," Backstrom said. "He's a great player -- a great two-way player. He works hard and goes to those dirty areas. He's a great teammate, too."