John Erskine leads Capitals defensemen on a scoring spree

After an agonizing defeat in overtime on Saturday against the Sabres, the Capitals bounce back quickly against the Thrashers.
By Gene Wang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 16, 2010; 12:20 AM

Washington Capitals defenseman Tyler Sloan was addressing the media in the Verizon Center locker room shortly after Sunday night's 6-4 victory over Atlanta when he uttered the following: "He's got a cannon out there."

He wasn't referring to high-scoring wingers Alex Ovechkin or Alexander Semin, but rather John Erskine, one of the several Capitals blue liners who have contributed more on offense than usual recently.

In the last three games, defensemen have had a hand in 10 of the Capitals' 14 goals. A defenseman has scored a goal in eight straight games for Washington, and six defensemen have accounted for 31 points and 11 goals in that time.

The mustachioed Erskine (he's growing the mustache for "Movember," which raises money for prostate cancer) has been on what for him amounts to a scoring onslaught, including a strike from distance against the Thrashers to put Washington ahead for good in the third period. That goal was Erskine's second of the season, and both have come over the last four games. He got his first goal in a 5-3 win Tuesday against the Rangers in New York. Before that, Erskine had scored seven goals in 336 games.

"The 'stache has been good luck this month," Erskine said after the game. "I talked to the wife, and I might be keeping it for a while."

Not that Erskine is forgoing his rugged-defenseman sensibilities. Against the Thrashers, he narrowly missed a Gordie Howe hat trick, comprising a goal, an assist and a fight. Erskine, at 6 feet 4 and 220 pounds, took care of the brawling in the second period when he tangled with Eric Boulton but had an assist wiped away after an official scoring change. It was one of several scoring changes in a game filled with peculiar bounces.

"Well, they gave me the phantom assist in the first period there, so I was kind of hoping for it," Erskine said. "But, no, it was good just to get the game winner there."

The uncommon scoring spree for Erskine has underscored just how much defensemen have contributed to Washington's ascension to the top of the league in points this season. Sloan, for instance, has six points in 13 games, matching his output from all of last season.

While offensive-minded defenseman Mike Green has done his part as usual with 12 points in his last nine games - including a power-play goal and an assist against the Thrashers - the Capitals also have gotten contributions recently from other defensemen, including goals by Sloan, John Carlson, Tom Poti and Karl Alzner.

"I think you need somebody other than Mike Green scoring goals and getting points from the back end if you want to be successful," Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said after playfully referring to Erskine and Sloan as offensive juggernauts. "If those guys are getting them, that's great."

The Capitals, meantime, are in the midst of an 8-1-1 run heading into Wednesday's home game against Buffalo. It will be Washington's second contest against the Sabres in five days. The visiting Capitals lost the last meeting in overtime, 3-2, but got a goal from Alzner to open the scoring and an assist from Erskine on Backstrom's tying goal in the third period.

"Everybody's chipping in," Sloan said. "I don't think it really surprises me. We don't get a lot attention back there with our defense corps, but everybody's mobile. Everybody can shoot the puck well, and given the opportunity, when the forwards give us a chance, and they cycle down low and draw the attention, feed it back out to us, good things happen."

Capitals note: With four goals and four assists in four games, Semin was named the NHL's third star of the week. He ranks second in the NHL in goals with 13 and fourth in points with 23.

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