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John Erskine suspended three games for elbowing

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Capitals defenseman John Erskine has been suspended for three games for elbowing Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds in the head during the first period of Friday night’s game. The play was deemed a “reckless elbow to the head” by the NHL’s department of player safety.

Erskine, 32, will forfeit $24,324.33 in pay during the suspension and will not be eligible to return until Feb. 9 when the Capitals host the Florida Panthers. This is the first suspension of Erskine’s 10-year NHL career.

In a video explanation of the ruling, Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s vice president of player safety, acknowledged that Erskine did not intend to injure Simmonds and noted that the defenseman is not a repeat offender.

“Erskine and Simmonds are pursuing a 50-50 puck in the Philadelphia zone,” Shanahan said in the video. “When Erskine realizes he is going to get beat, he tries to get a piece of his opponent to prevent an out-numbered rush. However, in doing so he raises his elbow striking Simmonds in the face. This is elbowing.

“As the two men approach the puck, Erskine looks up and clearly is aware of Simmonds’s proximity before delivering the illegal hit,” Shanahan continued. “While we acknowledge there was no malicious intent and that Erskine was reacting to getting beat, this nevertheless is a reckless elbow to the head that caused a serious injury.”

The rugged defenseman wasn’t penalized for the hit during Washington’s 3-2 win over the Flyers, but the elbow to the face sent Simmonds to the dressing room and he would not return.

Simmonds suffered a concussion and is out indefinitely, Flyers General Manager Paul Holmgren told Sam Carchidi of The Philadelphia Inquirer.

With Erskine out, expect the Capitals to insert veteran blue liner Tom Poti back into the lineup. Sunday’s tilt against Pittsburgh would mark Poti’s first game back in the lineup since Jan. 24 against Montreal.

Before the news of the suspension arrived Sunday night, the Capitals defended Erskine’s record as a tough but not dirty player.

“He does have that reputation around the league,” Matt Hendricks said. “Guys know that John Erskine’s one of the toughest guys in the league by far but he does it within the rules of the game and he’s clean.”

Said Coach Adam Oates: “I think it’s really tough, because you’ve got two guys going for the puck simultaneously and two big boys and it looked like simultaneous contact to me. And he’s a clean player, so we’ll see.”

And here’s the video explanation of the suspension.