Forward Brooks Laich took another step toward returning to the Capitals lineup when he was cleared for contact by athletic trainer Greg Smith.

Sidelined since the start of the season with a groin injury suffered during the lockout, Laich has been skating with the Caps during their two-game road trip in Florida, which continues tonight in Tampa against the Lightning.

Laich, 29, returned to the ice on Jan. 31 and has been taking some bumps in practice, but has refrained from going full-tilt. He is not expected to play tonight and is questionable for Sunday night’s visit to New York against the Rangers.

Last season Laich was tied for fifth on the Caps in goals [16], sixth in points [41] and eighth in ice time [18:29]. As a left-handed shot, he could provide the solution to coach Adam Oates’ season-long search for a left wing alongside right wing Alex Ovechkin and center Mike Ribeiro.

That position has been a revolving door through the first 13 games of the season, with Joey Crabb, Wojtek Wolski, Jason Chimera and Matt Hendricks taking turns with Ovechkin.

While the wait for Laich continues, look for Chimera [0 goals, 6 assists] to return to the top line against the Lightning. Chimera practiced on a line with Ribeiro and Ovechkin on Wednesday after taking just one shift in the third period of Tuesday night’s come-from-behind 6-5 overtime win against the Florida Panthers.