Ovi back at practice, Oates makes line changes
Marty Erat’s smile on Monday should have told the story.
After practicing with the fourth line, the veteran left wing was asked Monday if he was frustrated about being pulled from the top line after back-to-back wins.
“We’ll see tomorrow,” Erat said with a grin.
Tomorrow came and Erat was back on the Caps’ top line Tuesday, playing left wing alongside center Nicklas Backstrom and right wing Alex Ovechkin, who is expected to make his return tonight against the New York Islanders after missing two games with an upper body injury.
“Adam talked to me yesterday after practice and told me I’m going to play there,” Erat said. “I have to prove I belong in the top six forwards. I’ll try to being what I can to that line.”
Through 14 games, Erat has no goals and five assists and was playing on the Caps’ fourth line until Ovechkin was sidelined with an upper body injury. He’s played the past two games with Backstrom and right wing Eric Fehr, who will come out of the lineup tonight.
“It’s a very difficult decision,” Oates said of taking Fehr out of the lineup. “You’ve got to make some tough choices.”
Erat is an excellent two-way player who could be the defensive safety valve that has been missing on the top line this season.
“He’s a hard-working guy, he can handle the puck, he can forecheck,” Backstrom said. “He can pretty much do everything. He’s an all-around player.”
Erat said the only player he ever played with that has a shot like Ovechkin is Jason Arnott. But he sad he doesn’t expect to change the way he plays just because he’s with Ovechkin.
“It’s his first game so I’m not looking for anything,” Oates said. “They’ve got to play and figure each other out.”
To make room for Erat on the top line Oates moved Marcus Johansson to the second line, where he’ll center left wing Brooks Laich [two goals] and right wing Troy Brouwer [four goals].
“Last year they played with Ribs [Mike Ribeiro] and were great,” Oates said. “I expect no different. I need consistent play. I don’t want them worried about offense. I want them to get the puck in deep and it’ll happen.”
Judging from the morning skate, the rest of the Caps’ lineup looks like this:
Marty Erat – Nicklas Backstrom – Alex Ovechkin
Brooks Laich – Marcus Johansson – Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera – Mikhail Grabovski – Joel Ward
Aaron Volpatti – Michael Latta – Tom Wilson
Projected healthy scratches: Eric Fehr, Jay Beagle
Karl Alzner-John Carlson
Nate Schmidt – Mike Green
Alex Urbom – Steve Oleksy
Projected healthy scratch: Dmitry Orlov