Martin Erat’s day began with a 4 a.m. alarm, followed by a 6 a.m. flight out of Nashville, a 9:30 touchdown in D.C. and a 10 a.m. practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex.
Acquired by the Capitals just before Wednesday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline, Erat arrived at Kettler a few minutes after his new teammates hit the ice and was immediately placed on a left wing with center Mathieu Perreault and Joel Ward.
That’s where Erat will be tonight when the Capitals take on the New York Islanders at Verizon Center [6:30 p.m. Caps Central, CSN].
What kinds of emotions will be coursing through Erat’s 6-foot, 200-pound body?
“Excitement,” he said. “This is something new for me. I’m getting ready for new things in my life. That’s what I wanted. I want to play for the Stanley Cup.”
A few weeks ago, with the Predators a few points out of a playoff spot, Erat met with Nashville general manager David Poile and asked to be moved. Former and now current teammate Joel Ward said he understood Erat’s request, especially after Ryan Suter left the Preds to sign with the Minnesota Wild.
“I’m sure it was tough,” Ward said. “Last year they had a run there, but when you lose a guy like Suter it’s tough. Things weren’t developing the way he wanted. Hopefully, he comes in and relaxes and plays his game.”
Erat said he gave Poile a list of teams for which he would like to play and explained why the Capitals, who are also a non-playoff team, were on it.
“Everything,” he said when asked what made him think the Caps could win the Cup. “They’ve got the players that are hard to play against, they’ve got young, good goaltenders and they’ve got a defense that can compete with anyone in the league.”
With Erat playing on the Caps’ third line, Marcus Johansson remains on a top line with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin and Jason Chimera gets pulled from the third line.
Tonight will mark the first time this season Chimera will be a healthy scratch. In 36 games Chimera has one goal and is a team-worst minus-8.
“Nobody likes to be sat out, that’s a fact,” Oates said. “But it also can make you take a step back and look at the game and sometimes you need to do that to re-evaluate yourself and to evaluate where you belong. He’s the odd-man out right now.”
Oates said Erat will also see time on the power play and on the penalty kill.
“When you get moved not everybody makes that transition so smoothly, so we’ll ease him in,” Oates said.
Oates said he had little input on Wednesday’s trade, saying it was all the work of general manager George McPhee and his staff.
“That’s George’s thing,” Oates said. “The life expectancy of a coach is not that long. I think that’s a smart move by him. I have opinions, of course, and if he wants them I’ll give them. If he doesn’t, I understand.
“You have to remember, I came from New Jersey.”
Oates said the fact the Caps added at the deadline should provide an emotional lift for a team two points out of the Southeast Division lead.
"For the players its shows we want to win," Oates said. "And as a coaching staff we feel that way as well."
Ward, who played on a line with Erat and David Legwand when they were in Nashville, said he has no reservations about what Erat will bring to the Caps. He said he wins battles for pucks, is more of a playmaker than a finisher and has been remarkably consistent in his career, finishing with between 49 and 58 points in each of his last eight seasons.
“He leads by example,” Ward said. “He has to be vocal at times and speak up and he will. He’s not an in-for-face, rah-rah type of guy, but his work ethic shows that he really cares about winning.”
Ward said there are a lot of similarities between the way the Predators play under Barry Trotz and the system used by Oates and that should make Erat’s transition easier. Oates said he would sit down with Erat and show him a video “template” of the way the Caps play, adding that “upper echelon” players who “play the right way” adapt quickly.
“It means he understands how to function within a system and do your own job within it,” Oates said. “He’s been well coached.”
From an emotional standpoint, Erat said he’s excited to play for just his second NHL team after spending 11 years in Nashville, where his wife, Vera, and one-year-old son, Sebastian, are likely to remain for the remainder of the regular season.
“We’ll see how everything goes and when they can come,” he said. “I’m not getting younger and you want to have a chance to win every single year and Washington is one of the places where you have a chance.”