Most players in the Capitals‘ dressing room have been in the situation Martin Erat faced at the start of the season, with a lesser role than they want and eager to prove they should have more ice time.
They knew the winger, who is one of the most experienced players on the roster having played 739 NHL regular season games over 12 seasons, was frustrated.
“I know he’s been unhappy with where he is,” Troy Brouwer said. “He’s a good team guy and he would never express those feelings to too many people, but a guy like that really wants to play. He wants more opportunities and I think he’ll take advantage of it.”
After seven games on the fourth line with ice time in double digits only twice, Erat will start Saturday’s game against Columbus on the second line with Brouwer and Brooks Laich and a prime chance to show what he can bring in a more prominent role.
Erat, 32, was relied on as a primary source of offense during his 11 seasons with Nashville but his defensive instincts should also be an asset for the top half of the lineup.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to get more ice time and play with those two guys and see how everything goes, how’s the chemistry and go from there,” said Erat, who added that cleaning up the team’s overall defensive play is key to their success.
“It’s about your self pride,” Erat said of strong defensive commitment. “Everybody can play forward but to play defensively it takes five guys on the ice. You always have to always play hard and that’s what we were missing last [game]. Everybody was focusing more on doing this or this, now is the time to play hard.”
Both Laich and Brouwer are interested in how Erat’s quick bursts of speed, which helps him dart around the ice, taking advantage of holes in an opponent’s scheme will help the line. In theory, it should help them move up the ice better as a three-man unit.
Laich also wants to take advantage of his teammate’s internal motivation.
“He hasn’t played a lot of minutes and he’s coming in with a lot of hunger. You know he’s going to be flying, wanting to earn more and more minutes,” Laich said. “We’ve all been there on the fourth line or something and you almost want to give it to the coach and say, ‘Play me because I can do this’. Marty’s going to come in with that fire and he’s going to be flying around [Saturday] night. The more we go north and get him the puck the better it will be.”
>> In another lineup change that’s worth keeping an eye on as the Blue Jackets visit Washington, rookie Nate Schmidt will line up alongside Mike Green.
Schmidt, who will be playing in his fourth career NHL game Saturday, skated with the two-time Norris Trophy finalist at the end of the 2-0 loss to the Rangers, but as he prepares to work with Green from the start of a contest Schmidt was focused on learning as much as he could about his new partner.
“Just talking on the bench. I sit next to him in the locker room downtown and I’m familiar with him, I’ve been out there with him a couple times during four-on-four situations the past couple games,” Schmidt said. “Trying to get where he wants the puck when you go D-to-D with him just little minuscule things like that, that make a difference that make great D partners have the chemistry they have and just trying to build it as fast as we can.”