When George McPhee acquired forward Martin Erat in exchange for top prospect Filip Forsberg at the March 3 NHL trading deadline he was hoping the veteran winger could provide depth behind Marcus Johansson and Brooks Laich on the Capitals’ left side.
With Laich sidelined indefinitely and possibly facing surgery to repair groin problems, Erat’s acquisition becomes even more significant
“It’s huge,” Caps defenseman Mike Green said. “It’s a great move. It’s exactly what we need. He’s going to be one of those guys who contributes down the road big-time in the playoffs.”
Erat, 31, left a good first impression in his debut for the Capitals on April 4. Problem was, it was the only impression he left.
Sidelined by a check from behind early in his second game with the Caps on April 5, Erat missed the next three games and is expected to return to the Capitals Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning at VerizonCenter.
Green said Erat’s skating ability and ice vision reminds him of Sergei Fedorov. Against the Lightning Erat is expected to play left wing on a line with center Mike Ribeiro and right wing Troy Bouwer.
“When he’s 100 percent, he’s a top-six forward in this league and I expect him to fit right into the lineup,” Caps coach Adam Oates said. “He played a solid first game.You could see the skill level and the IQ in him and why he plays in all situations.”
Ribeiro said he’s looking forward to playing with Erat, especially after facing him for much of his career in Dallas.
“I know a little bit what he likes,” Ribeiro said. “He’s a guy with speed and can help me and Brows get up the ice. He’s been well-coached in the same kind of defensive system.”
Ribeiro said that with the top line of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and Marcus Johnasson carrying the Capitals with 22 goals in the past 14 games, he’s hoping his lne can start contributing more offense.
“Having Erat back will give teams a little more trouble to match up,” he said. “They play against their top two D and if we can score we can let them breathe a little bit.”
Cleanup crew: Although the Caps have won six in a row and are 10-1-1 in their last 12, Oates said there are a few things he’d like to see improve.
Like the Caps’ penalty kill, which has allowed goals in three of the past four games and six of the past eight.
He’s also like to see the Caps improve on faceoffs and in making better reads with the puck in the neutral zone, saying there are times they can get the puck deep instead of making “cute plays.”
Perhaps that’s why Oates changed Friday’s session from an optional skate to a full practice.
“We practiced because it wasn’t 90 degrees outside,” he said. “I don’t want to wear guys out because we still have a lot of hockey.”