John Erskine: Even-Strength Albatross (Video)


Photo credit: Elsa

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.

I’ve included the last five even-strength goals scored against the Caps. One from the Flames, two from the Stars, and two from the Hurricanes. They’re in chronological order.

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

Erskine and 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:

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.

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  • BoulderBondra

    When I want to get angry, I just watch Erskine. His breakout passes are the worst! So much defensive zone time when he’s on the ice!!

  • Freedoooom

    Blaming Carlson for any of this is stupid. Specifically he glanced at Skinner skating towards Erskine, who wasn’t covering anyone.

    Its pathetic when the Caps tough guy dman can’t even clear Skinner out of the crease.

  • johnnymorte

    Let’s bring up Orlov. It’s time.

  • Matthew Kory

    I read Oates’ statement to mean that he felt it wasn’t time to make changes, as any changes = panic. I agree with you that changes can be made without panicing, the changes can be, as you said, carefully considered, but it appears as if Oates doesn’t see it that way. Sadly.

  • RESmith

    Nice piece breaking this down. I couldn’t concur more!

  • D-Man

    Take a look at how #52 Green saunters into the slot and fails to pick up a man. How come not talk about him here? While some of the problem does fall on Erskine, there is blame all over the place.

  • Brad

    He is NOT top 4 defenseman. He is slow and gets bad penalties. Bring up Orlov and put Ocrapsky back to Minors. Keep Carrick.

  • Over_head

    I hate to do this because I know how it is going to sound, but, I will take my chances. My opinion of Erskine is he is a solid defensive player, but he is *not* a highly skilled, slick skating defenseman that is going to be able to make up for others errors. He does not have the quickness to get that done.

    On the Bouma goal he stepped up to make a hit, that is *should not* be a problem because he had Fehr and Laich for support. Green had missed the puck along the wall, not a great play either. Once Neuvy misplayed that puck they were screwed, it surprised everyone.

    On the Cole goal, who did Cole beat off the wall? Where was the Caps center?

    Lindholm goal, we are blaming Erskine for a player shooting that was not his check that had the puck deflected into the net by his defensive partner? Not clear on that one.

    Chiasson goal, 3-2, the forwards all got caught deep in the offensive zone. A forth line cannot do that. Chiasson was the third man into the offensive zone driving the center lane which should be the first forward back’s responsibility. This play and a couple of others like it are why Beagle was in the press box last night, IMO.

    The little person goal, well, I would like to see him more aware of players near the net, but when your partner turns the puck over like that it sort of catches everyone off guard. He could have played it better, then again, his defensive partner could stop turning the puck over every third time he touches it as well.

    As I said, IMO, Erskine is a solid, hard hitting defenseman. His is not a great skater and not great with the puck. He is not capable of making up for teammates errors. If you wish to fault him for that I understand. But, to focus on him when each of these goals was a direct result of a another teammates glaring error is a little unfair, IMO.

  • Julie Fainberg

    Anyone else laugh uncontrollably at that Flyers fan who is seemingly humping the glass? No? Just me? Okay…

  • sheena dunn

    I am so glad I am not the only one who thinks the D needs come changes. Big John have not impressed me this year. I’d rather see Carrick over Erskine.

  • tim

    Can we get a typo-free tweet from Gormley, please?

  • Roman Z.

    Can we please add Brouwer and Erat to the list of unproductive 8 million cap space.

  • Chris Cerullo

    I’m being serious when I say I’d prefer #55 next to RAHJC at this point….

  • Q

    It’s nice to see Erskine fill the Schultz role so well.

  • Daniel Walker

    D is bad all around. Earskine is soooo slow and can’t move the puck. He regularly gets beat to loose pucks. Carlson has shown only marginal improvement since his first game in the league. Green is who he is. Alzner is our bright spot and our Steady Eddie even if he is terrified to shoot the puck (he is getting better!). The rest of the guys are interchangeably fringe NHLers at this point. I understand that a lot of these guys are young and show a great deal of promise (Carrick), but they’re not cutting it at this point. To top it all off, our defensive coach possesses a Laughlinesque ‘sunny all the time’ outlook and is constantly trying to convince Smokin’ Al and his long suffering audience that we are one minor tweak away from dominance during his bumbling in game interviews. Even if we are able to get into the playoffs with this group, they will certainly be exposed and made to look silly in short order, just like last season. At this point I am longing for the good ole’ days of Milan Jurcina and Shaone Morrisonn. On a more positive note, in a half decade or so, I expect Madison Bowey could be decent.

  • Matt

    So, it’s the third period of the game against the Avs. Tell me again how Erskine is at fault for this?

  • osmosis

  • Matt

    Right…..nice try. Pick another analytical excuse.