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Back in the Saddle

Posted on January 26, 2013 by Mike Vogel

John Erskine has spent half a dozen seasons in the Washington organization, longer than any other blueliner on the club except for Mike Green. During Dale Hunter’s short tenure as Caps coach last season, Erskine’s stock alternately rose and fell. He played frequently and logged more or less normal ice time early in the Hunter administration.


Erskine enjoyed his best NHL season in 2010-11, setting career highs in games (73), goals (four), assists (seven) and points (11) while averaging 14:50 per night. But he underwent off-season shoulder surgery, and was sidelined for the early portion of last season.


In and out of the lineup through the first half of the season, Erskine was more or less a forgotten man in the season’s second half. He played in just one regular season game after the start of February, and generally played fewer than 10 minutes when he did get a sweater.


During last spring’s playoffs, the Caps turned to Erskine in the Boston series, inserting him into the lineup after more than two months of inactivity. He acquitted himself admirably and ended up appearing in four of Washington’s 14 playoff games.


This season, Erskine was a healthy scratch for the season’s first three games before getting a sweater on Friday night in New Jersey. He played 17:30 for Caps coach Adam Oates, the fourth different bench boss for who he has performed in the District.


“It felt good,” says Erskine, “especially getting out there pretty much on a regular shift. It’s been a while but it felt good just to get out there and play some hockey. It brought the fun back into hockey.”


Oates has installed a new system of play, but Erskine has been paying attention in class. He passed his first test against the Devils.


“We study it all the time and do video,” says Erskine. “In my head, I know it. When you get out there in different game situations, you maybe catch yourself thinking a little bit too much. But I think after the first five or 10 minutes I was pretty comfortable with it.”


When you’re in and out of the lineup and you’re trying to pick up a new system and play with a new partner – John Carlson – it helps if you’re actually in a regular rotation instead of getting just a couple of shifts every period.


“It’s easier to be out there every other shift or every third shift rather than to play a shift and sit for 10 minutes,” says Erskine. “It keeps your legs into it and keeps you in the game all the time.”


During the first three games of the season, Erskine sat in the press box and watched the games in his own unique way.


“When I sit out, I pick a guy and watch him,” he says. “I was watching Tom [Poti] play and Karl [Alzner]. I just watch how they deal with the systems. That may have helped me a little bit. But I think you just get out there and play hockey and have fun.”


Erskine’s first foray onto NHL ice in nearly nine months was respectable. He played a regular shift throughout, and was on the ice late in a tie game and also drew three shifts in overtime. At night’s end, Erskine had two hits, two blocked shots, three shots on goal and he had logged 2:25 in shorthanded ice time.


Like most of his teammates, he was encouraged by the Caps’ performance in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Devils.


“I think guys were pretty excited that we put 60 minutes together and when we got down 2-0,” relates Erskine. “We didn’t just fall over and give up. It showed a lot of character coming back at the end there and I think we’ve just got to build off of it for [Sunday].”


Erskine showed enough in Friday’s game that Oates and his staff won’t be hesitant to insert Erskine into the lineup if needed. He provides size, toughness, grit and physicality, qualities that aren’t prevalent among the other seven defensemen currently on the Caps’ roster.


Posted in: Sports
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Postgame Notebook 1-25-13: Devils 3, Caps 2 (OT)

January 26, 2013

For the third straight game, the Caps headed into the third period staring at a multiple-goal deficit on Friday in New Jersey.