Martin Erat wanted the opportunity to show the Washington Capitals what he could bring to this team. Saturday night in the Capitals’ 4-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, Erat seized the moment and recorded three assists in his first game after being moved up from the fourth line to the second.
Erat was instrumental in setting up Washington’s pair of even strength goals and keyed an on-going cycle game, along with linemates Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer, that helped fuel the team’s collective confidence.
“I played with him in Nashville, I know what he’s capable of, what he can bring to the table,” Joel Ward said. “It was good to see him out there flying again tonight and seeing him back to his old self….Marty’s a great guy off the ice. He’s definitely a team-first guy. He wants to win, he battles hard, he works hard even though he’s not the biggest guy out there but he goes out in to the corners and battles. I’m just happy for him to get an opportunity.”
Through the first seven games, Erat skated on the fourth line averaging 8 minutes, 46 seconds and recording no points. It was a difficult situation for Erat, who has mainly held top-six roles in his 12-year career and was acquired at the trade deadline last year to provide top-tier forward depth.
When Coach Adam Oates reconfigured the forward lines Friday and moved Erat up to the second line, it presented the chance for the veteran winger to prove why he should have been there all along.
“We made some changes and he stepped in and played great for us,” Oates said. “He and I talked a couple weeks ago. We had a heart-to-heart conversation, which is always difficult. I know he talked to [General Manager] George [McPhee]. He played good for us tonight and that’s what being a pro is all about.”
On the play that led to Capitals’ second goal, Erat drew three Blue Jackets toward him as he surveyed the scene and dished the puck on to Steve Oleksy. The defenseman made a slick play himself to put the puck on net and then Brooks Laich knocked in the rebound.
Ahead of the third goal, Erat picked off a pass by Nikita Nikitin to regain possession in the offensive zone and then sent the puck to Troy Brouwer in the slot. On the power play, Erat fed the puck from behind the goal line all the way up to Mike Green at the point ahead of Alex Ovechkin’s booming slap shot.
But even after all that, Erat didn’t want the focus to be on his personal performance.
“It’s nice to have a good game but in the end it’s all about the wins,” said Erat, who finished with 17:49 of ice time. “We get the win and that’s the bottom line.”
Ovechkin, however, didn’t hesitate to praise his teammate.
“He was flying tonight,” Ovechkin said. “He was the best player for us tonight. He showed who he is.”