Photo: Alex Brandon
Despite his menacing stare and his even angrier-looking fists, there may be no nicer man in the Washington Capitals locker room than John Erskine. That’s why this is hard to write.
The 33-year-old Erskine, who was given a two-year $3.9 million extension from George McPhee last February, may be in the throes of his worst season ever as a pro.
The veteran defenseman — who is supposed to be a leader out on the ice — is an anchor on the Caps. His 47.2% puck possession is 3.6% worse than the team does without him. The only defensemen on the team with a lower possession scores are rookie Connor Carrick and the recently released Alexander Urbom. Erskine ranks 173rd out of the 230 defensemen with at least 25 games played when measured by corsi percentage.
Then there’s the goals. While Erskine is on the ice at even strength, 62% of the goals scored on the ice belong to the opponent. Big John also has a penalty differential of minus-9 (he’s taken nine more penalties than he’s drawn).
Then there’s the eye test, my personal favorite, which Erskine fails regularly.
Let’s take Friday against the Detroit Red Wings for example. On two straight shifts, Erskine tripped over his own two feet in the third period, leading to two Red Wings scoring chances.
On his first folly, Gustav Nyquist took Erskine’s turnover, skating the puck all the way down the ice before scoring.
Erskine fell again on his very next shift, surrendering a point-blank chance to Darren Helm.
Erskine was on the ice for three of Detroit’s five goals on Sunday, including two of Gustav Nyquist’s three goals.
I’d review these goals more thoroughly, but I can’t actually tell what Erskine is doing or who he’s trying to cover.
These are no longer understandable mistakes — especially not from a veteran. This is a pattern of bad play that must be corrected. If the Capitals are trying to win games and get into the playoffs, they will do what it takes– even if that means sitting Erskine and bringing up Nate Schmidt.