Goal scoring isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Capitals defenseman John Erskine. Willing to throw the body around? You bet. A stay at home defenseman? Sure. Every once in a while, though, the 6-4, 220 pound blue-liner fires a shot through traffic that leads to “goal scorer” being added to the list.
Early in the second period of the Capitals’ 3-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday, Erskine gathered the puck at the left point, wound up for a slap shot, but pulled up and took a step toward the boards to avoid Drew Stafford. He then took a wrist shot that found its way into the back of the net. It was the 12th goal of his 11-year NHL career.
“Well, I was gonna unleash the big cannon first and then he got in the lane so I just threw a little muffin and good stuff happens,” Erskine said. “I wouldn’t say I was surprised. I just threw it at the net and you never know what can happen. It can go off people and in the net. That’s the way goals are going in these days.”
Erskine’s goal gave the Capitals a 2-1 lead, their second advantage of any type on the scoreboard this season and the first since Jan. 22 against Winnipeg. It was also Erskine’s first goal since May 4, 2011, Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinal in which the Capitals were eliminated by the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Last season, Erskine played just 28 regular season games — only seven once the calendar turned to 2012 after falling out of favor with then-coach Dale Hunter. “I wouldn’t even count that as a year,” Erskine said.
This year, he was a healthy scratch for the first three contests but has now played two straight paired with John Carlson.
Coach Adam Oates brought him into the lineup against New Jersey looking for “fresh legs.” Against the Devils, Erskine took 26 shifts for 17:30 of ice time and then 22 shifts for 20:56 against the Sabres on Sunday. He’s recorded six shots, a goal and has been on the ice for only one goal against. Not a bad way to start off the season.
As for that goal, well, Erskine’s teammates say no one should be surprised when one of his shots goes in.
“Erskine shoots a lot harder than that. I know it. He’s got a heck of a shot, which is very key to have, especially for getting pucks through. I think Erskine’s shot is pretty underrated, actually,” Joel Ward said. “ A lot of people don’t give him credit, but he’s got one of hardest shots here, for sure. Obviously, he’s a big guy, and you don’t want to be blocking a guy that’s covered in all that many tattoos like that in your way. So no, Erskine — hats off to him. He’s been playing hard the last couple games, and it’s good for him to get his confidence up too.”