By Adam Vingan
Lost in the excitement and controversy of the Washington Capitals’ 5-4 overtime win over the Anaheim Ducks Tuesday were two season debuts. Even then, one debut overshadowed another. Cody Eakin made his long-awaited NHL debut, but John Erskine also returned to the lineup for the first time this season Tuesday. The quiet Erskine speaks softly and carries a big stick – literally and figuratively – but was pleased with his return, where he finished with an assist in 15:49 of ice time.
“I just took it slow, tried to play it simple,” Erskine said after practice Wednesday at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “I don’t think that it was an overly physical game, so it kind of worked in my favor. Other than that, as the game went on, I felt I was getting more comfortable.”
Erskine underwent offseason surgery on his left shoulder after injuring it in March. Throughout September’s training camp, Erskine wore an orange no-contact jersey and did not appear in any preseason games. In fact, Tuesday’s game against the Ducks was Erskine’s first game action since last season’s playoff series with the Tampa Bay Lightning. With that in mind, head coach Bruce Boudreau was impressed with Erskine’s season debut.
“With John I was really, really pleasantly surprised,” Boudreau said after Tuesday’s game. “He looked like he didn’t miss a beat. He’s probably pretty tired right now, but I thought he played a great game. Considering he’s been off for so long and hasn’t even had a meaningful scrimmage yet.”
With Mike Green out with an injury, Erskine started the game paired with John Carlson and finished with Dennis Wideman. Last season, Erskine spent some time with Wideman before the latter got injured, but played primarily with former Caps defenseman Scott Hannan. The defensive pairings deviated from the norm Tuesday, but Erskine was comfortable playing with both Carlson and Wideman. While with Wideman, Erskine made a two-line breakout pass to Troy Brouwer, who ultimately scored to cut the Ducks’ lead to 3-2.
“When I just practicing, I pretty much played with everyone,” Erskine said. “I’ve played wtth [Carlson] before and I played with [Wideman] for a few games last year before he got hurt. It’s nice to have the same partner; you always know where he is, but it’s early in the season, so it’s not too difficult.”
Despite not playing in any games since May, Erskine’s transition back into the lineup went smoothly. With more regular playing time in his foreseeable future, Erskine plans to work on regaining his skills over the course of the season.
“I want to get my speed back, just getting a rhythm back in the game,” Erskine said. “I haven’t played in like five and a half months. It takes time, but I’m definitely feeling better after last night.”