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Ostensibly, John Erskine is a top-4 defenseman, but his performance so far this season leaves much to be desired. He has been on the ice for the last five even-strength goals scored against the Caps.
The team’s goal differential during 5v5 play, by the way, is minus-5. Coincidence?
Let’s take a look at how those goals went down.
L. Bouma Wrist shot – ASST: B. McGrattan, B. Street
Big John puts a shoulder into Ben Street, effectively taking them both out of the play, but not before Street gets the puck away for a hard-around. The hit was big and, I imagine, fun to some, but it got Ersk so far out of the action that Bouma was able to get a lay up. Neuvirth was surely at fault for abandoning the net, but would he have had to do that if Erskine had actually played the puck?
E. Cole Snap shot – ASST: T. Seguin, J. Benn
Erskine is caught watching as Robidas passes the puck around the back. Short-straw drawer John Carlson chases it and engages Tyler Seguin, perhaps hoping Erskine would mark a man in the slot. Instead, Erskine expects a reversal and marks no one in particular next to the crease. He can hardly turn his head in time to watch Erik Cole score.
A. Chiasson Snap shot – ASST: C. Eakin, J. Benn
Carlson Steve Oleksy are up the river here. Facing a three-on-two, they hope to slow the play down and minimize the attackers’ options. Oleksy does that capably by getting all up in Ray Whitney‘s piece, but Erskine commits to no one and eliminates no angles, allowing a bang-bang play and rebound goal by Chiasson and Eakin.
Had Erskine put his big body on Chiasson, Eakin still would have gotten off that low-percentage, wide-angle shot, but Chiasson wouldn’t have been able to get the clean rebound. Instead, Erskine was a bystander.
E. Lindholm Deflected shot – ASST: J. Skinner, R. Murphy
Here, Erskine goes for a stick check that doesn’t quite pan out. That’s fine, but afterwards his eyes stay fixed on the puck so he completely misses Jeff Skinner sneaking up on his flank, about to screen Braden Holtby to give little Elias Lindholm his first NHL goal.
To be fair, Carlson did nothing to stop Skinner either, and Jason Chimera was way out in neutral when the whole thing was going down.
N. Gerbe Wrist shot – ASST: J. Staal, J. Faulk
Overwhelmed. Erskine’s not on the active side as John Carlson misplays the puck and turns it over, but in the ensuing fracas– as tiny little Nathan Gerbe sets up from the doorstep, Ersk is a non-factor. Again: one of Ersk’s boons is his ability to shove dudes out of the play. He was actually pretty great at it facing the Rangers in last season’s playoffs.
So I’m not sure what’s going on. Erskine is not particularly fast, but he’s never been particularly fast. He’s not particularly aware, but he’s never been that either. He does not using his biggest asset (his big ass) to make the opponent’s forwards pay the price for going on attack, and when he does, it removes him from the play entirely.
Sometimes the other teams are skating around him (Lindholm), and sometimes they’re unsettling him with puck movement (Cole), but in every circumstance he seems outclassed– despite usually being the biggest guy out there.
To be fair, D-buddy John Carlson doesn’t come out of this smelling like rose either. The defense is not the team’s only problem, and John Erskine is not the only problem on the defense. There’s a litany of stuff to worry about.
Speaking with CSN’s Chuck Gormley, Adam Oates addressed those worries following the Caps’ 3-2 loss to the Hurricanes:
#CapitalsTalk Adam Oates on failing to hold a lead in every game this season: ‘I don’t think it’s tome to push the panic button yet.’
— Chuck Gormley (@ChuckGormleyCSN) October 11, 2013
But “Panic” is kind of a scam. “Panic” implies that these are hastily made decisions being executed out of dire necessity. The Caps need to make some changes– first and foremost to their blueline, but it need not be panic. It’s only been four games. No. The Caps should make a few carefully considered changes following examining game tape.
But changes should be made.