After missing the past three games with an injured left leg, Martin Erat will return to the Capitals’ lineup Saturday night at Verizon Center against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Erat, 31, suffered the injury on April 6 at Florida when Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson delivered a late hit from behind that sent the veteran winger awkwardly into the boards. He avoided significant harm, though, and after five consecutive days of skating Erat said he’s prepared to get back to game action.
“Feeling good. Feels better every day, I’m pretty much ready to go,” Erat said, adding that while he would have much rather been playing games with his new team the time to take part in practice and watch the system work from above should help him make a smooth transition.
“Practice, watching the games, everything. It helps to see how the guys play it and it’s easier for me to understand it,” Erat said. “I’m watching overall game and watching the system: How you have to do it in the neutral zone, how you forecheck, how the guys do it. It’s easier to understand it when you watch it from upstairs.”
The injury occurred in Erat’s second game with the Capitals since being acquired in a deadline-day trade from the Nashville Predators, and Coach Adam Oates is looking forward to getting the winger better acquainted with the style of play.
“I want him to get some games in, start playing and we’ll evaluate him day by day and make little adjustments,” Oates said. Nashville “played a [system with] a lot of similarities in a way and the structure of their team so he should be fine. “
Erat is expected to play on the second line with Mike Ribeiro and Troy Brouwer against the Lightning and the hope is adding another true top-six forward should help give the Capitals more of a balanced offensive punch in their top two lines.
“The Ovi line with Nicky and Marcus has been carrying us for a while, the last 10 games for sure,” said Ribeiro, who has two goals and three assists in the past 10 games. “Obviously having Erat back will give teams a little bit more trouble to match up….and it’s up to us to help that first line breathe a little bit. If you can get a goal a game or close to that it’s going to help the team and it will be easier for the top line to breathe.”
With Erat’s return, Aaron Volpatti is expected to shift down to the fourth line while Wojtek Wolski will be a healthy scratch among the defensemen. Braden Holtby is set to make his 30th start of the season Saturday night and here’s how the lineup will likely look against the Lightning: