John Erskine’s Not-Good Weekend


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.

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  • Super_Dad_Esq

    Methinks he hasn’t been healthy in a long time, even when he comes back from being DTD, healthy scratch, or IR. I suspect it would be something to do with his hands (from smashing people/helmets) or concussions. If he’s not contributing, the brass should give him some time to get truly healthy and just work on his game.

  • Marky Narc

    It’s a shame, because, like you said, Erskine is a great locker room guy. (Also, his did is easy to pick out at the mentors games – they look exactly alike.) It’s just… this is a player who is near the end of his career at the NHL level and unfortunately (both for him and for us), it’s happening right now on this team.

  • Topher Gee

    “The only defensemen on the team with a lower possession scores are rookie Connor Carrick” Yup let’s pair them together… Dont know how I would feel about Carrick-Schmidt, the sharks might smell rookie blood on the ice. Great post guy’s

  • I love Connor Carrick (and the future he has) as well, but he’s not an NHL player either.

  • guest

    Watch fehr in the second video. Erskine’s not the only one to blame there

  • Brackaphobia

    Yet another reason we need to be trading for a legitimate defenseman. GMGM if you’re listening, plz not Ryan Miller.

  • VeggieTart

    At least not yet. But when it comes to Carrick and Schmidt, you can chalk up their miscues to rookie error. What’s Erskine’s excuse?

  • Exactly.

  • wewantrandyholt4

    Hello? We all see the shortcomings of this gang…..what we need is answers….Erskine doesnt lack effort on defense but the stars we depend on do…is it time to start listing numbers? way past that……

  • Michael Reschly

    ” 62% of the goals scored on the ice belong to the opponent.”

    This is just a fancy way of citing plus/minus, you know.

  • JH

    While I do not like Erskine I don’t think these are the best examples of poor defense by him. There were other breakdowns during both those goals. On the O-zone turnover – yep, he fumbled it, but the pass was at his feet. But even the turnover didn’t guarantee it would be a goal. Both rushers were covered and Neuvy gave up a shot from the high slot that I don’t think he should have. On the second one (that made if from 2-4 to 3-4), my understanding is if the weak side D-man has no one to cover, you protect the crease, so I think he was in the right position – Detroit made a play, but not sure you can chalk that up to poor D – I think 10 and 16 might have done more to disrupt the developing play as well. And the last example, poor communication between him and Carlson for sure, but also Backstrom was beat and out of position. Again, I can’t believe I’m defending Ersk, but I think there’s lots of blame to go around on these….

  • Patrick Neimeyer

    I like John Erskine’s grit and determination, but more often than not that leads to turnovers, points lost, and playoffs kisses goodbye. Very similar was the “Steve Olesky Project,” where he was loved personally, and uncertain athletically. This poses a question for you guys at RMNB and fans…Does Washington Sports invest too heavily in nice guys, or do we need more jerks in DC to get championships?

  • @mediaplots

    When can we talk about Orlov, then? Yes, he ‘moves the puck,’ and other posts on this blog encourage him to shoot, but he makes so many mistakes and draws penalities. Sorry to not have data to back it up, but I think the Caps’s defensive problems are multidimensional.

  • Patrick Neimeyer

    I think rugged defensemen like Ersky do have their time and place in the NHL, but when supported by other “finesse,” type of players. Connor Carrick might have it in the future but as for now, I would have taken the Hanson Brothers.

  • Barrett

    Not gonna blast John Carlson either huh? How about Karl Alzner….? They aren’t playing up to a top line defense pairing.

  • JH

    Orlov is still a bit wet behind the ears. He makes mistakes, He’s an incredible talent. I think he could be Green-level if he learns to balance risk taking and stay-at-home better. I guess is it better for his development (and this applies to several of our youngsters) to play minutes in Hershey or in the NHL. I think, but I really have no empirical evidence, that it’s better to have him up in the NHL – that he’ll progress faster. But we have to put up with mistakes. Veterans don’t have that luxury.

  • Yes, he’s made a bunch of mistakes too, but that data that you don’t have, supports the very opposite – he is one of the better defenseman on this team. Also, check out what JH said: this is his second full season in the NHL. This is not a guy who’s been in the league 10+ years. Orly’s still developing.

  • I think we just need more good players – of any personality!

  • JH

    We have a lot of underperformers this year. Reason why, I can’t say. Joel Ward is our No.2 scorer. Joel. Ward. I love him but jeez.

  • Not exactly, but yes. Kinda.

  • Wolski was apparently a shithead, but he is good at hockey and didn’t get any ice time.

    I dunno if the nice dude – Sean Avery spectrum is completely useful, but I know *I* prefer to work with people who aren’t total scrot-lice.

  • I addressed Orlov in the snapshot

    It remains to be seen if he’s a real NHL player or not. It’s totally possible the Caps have two decent D, Mike Green, and a bunch of wash-outs.

  • Barrett

    Your focused piece on John Erskine has no evidence to him having a “not-good weekend”.

    Write one on how terrible our top defensive pairing of John Carlson and Karl Alzner are playing.

  • Barrett

    I like what Orlov brings. That play he made yesterday carrying the puck through the neutral zone looked a lot like Mike Green from a few years ago. He’ll get better with time, but is still young with not a lot of experience.

  • Diller M

    Erskine might look rugged, but he plays soft. Rugged D-men with sow feet are supposed to be able to keep the front of the net clear. Erskine politely allows his men to get position with regularity, and then never gets to the loose pucks that are actually closer to him than the opponents. He has GOT to go, hes an older, tougher version of Shultz with a harder shot.

  • GetchaGrubbOn

    Erskine is just slowing down and getting old. He’s always been big and a little clumsy but now he’s becoming a clumsy liability.

    Can’t blame it all on age, though, because Orlov is having similar problems. Orlov is overskating the rubber, selling out on wild poke checks that allow puck carriers to just step around him, and trying to take too much of the offense into his hands (granted, the forwards aren’t helping much with covering the blue line when he does so, but I think in large part it’s because Orlov is making tactical decisions on his own and just running wild).

    In game 1 against Detroit I saw Strachan skate past 5 Wings straight to the goal. On the very same shift, the next time down the ice Orlov had the puck on his stick. I just got a sick feeling that he was thinking “If goofy Strachan can do that then I’ll become a god right now.” Sure enough, he tried to do the same thing, left the blue line vacant, got stripped of the puck, and got a great view of a Detroit goal as he trailed the play out of position.

    I don’t trust either of them when the puck is near them. Orlov seems to be taking a lot of risks that aren’t in the gameplan. Erskine just looks like Bambi on ice. It’s hard to watch. Something’s got to give.

  • Diller M

    Is this Erskine’s mom? You can’t actually claim that Erskine is playing better than Carlson or Alzner and beleive it.

  • Diller M

    *scrot-lice* Classy, I love it.

  • “Your focused piece on John Erskine has no evidence to him having a ‘not-good weekend’.”

    We’re going to have to agree to disagree there then.

    “Write one on how terrible our top defensive pairing of John Carlson and Karl Alzner are playing.”

    They have been bad as well. Yes. The entire defense/team coverage has been bad, but I thought Ersk’s performance was notably bad this weekend in comparison to how much he’s paid and played in the NHL. Connor Carrick is his d-partner, he seems to barely have a clue what he’s doing, and I thought he was leading the way out there.

  • Barrett

    You could say the same thing about John Carlson. There are numerous young defenseman (Cam Fowler, Victor Hedman, Slava Voynov, , Roman Josi and Erik Johnson) in the league that are paid similar to his salary and time played in the NHL having better seasons when compared to those two factors.

    You could probably say the same thing about almost every player on this roster excluding Alex Ovechkin and possible Joel Ward and Jason Chimera.

  • Barrett

    I never claimed that he was playing better than Carlson or Alzner.

  • Michael Reschly

    It’s plus/minus as a ratio. No ‘not exactly’ or ‘kinda’ about it.

    Also, 60% of ES goals with Ovi on the ice go in the other teams net (assuming the numbers from–nhl.html are accurate)

  • Chris Cerullo

    You’ve got to be kidding me.

  • JH

    Dude, have a bit of patience with Orlov. He is still developing. He is way more talented with the puck than Erskine, but that also gets him into trouble because he tries to do too much – as you say, he makes tactical decisions on his own and runs wild. Legit criticism, but hopefully a trait that can be diminished. Erksine, a vet and mostly there for physical presence, welp, he ain’t helping a whole lot. As you say, a clumsy liability, and he doesn’t have the excuse of youthful exuberance.

  • GetchaGrubbOn

    I totally agree with what you’re saying. Orlov has a lot of raw talent and a huge upside. I really want to see him do well in Washington. He just needs to tighten his game up a bit. Unfortunately the rest of the team isn’t equipped to make up for his mistakes right now. If it were just him out there trying to grow into his potential it would be ok, but the whole team around him is making it difficult.

  • GetchaGrubbOn

    62% includes special teams, while +/- does not. For what it’s worth…

  • Myan

    There is a “not exactly” and a “kinda” about it. 62% of goals going against us a trend statistic but it doesn’t uniformly describe plus/minus as the sample size (total goals scored) increases. For example, at 62% of goals going against us, this translates into a -2.4 plus/minus for 10 goals scored but a -12 plus/minus when 50 goals are scored.

  • kyle boyd

    backstroms pass wasnt good, but it wsnt horrible either. also the “know your teammates” argument is pretty ridiculous. what good is a defenseman that you cant even use as an outlet when your being pressured in the offensive zone? no one expects erskine to snipe, or make a pin point pass, or dangle. but he had a lot of time and space to receive, and control that pass and didn’t. that’s something that should be expected of every man on the roster.

    the second goal wasn’t as bad, and after that minor breakup, erskine doesn’t do anything of value. he collapses to the net in a panic but can seem to keep track of the puck or his coverage.

    the third i agree is the least condeming. erskines coverage on zetterberg was soft, carlsson and him clearly aren’t used to playing together and so the whole play was disorganized, and backstrom got beat coming back and lost his inside edge on tatars stick. but RMNB has said alot all season of the teams defensive struggles as a whole, this piece was pointing out that there’s just one obvious partial fix that needs to be made, swapping out erskine. also it was the

    i personally like the guy, a lot. but right now he’s playing with all downsides we saw in guys like carrick and orlov, but with none of the positives.

    lastly, as for the “maybe the #3 defense pairing shouldn’t be killing penalties” comment… look it up. most teams use all 3 pairs on the PK, and that goal happened at the tail end of the power play right after erskine stepped off. if you cant count on a Dman to kill 20 seconds of a penalty he shouldn’t be on the team. erskine is a defenseman who contributes nothing offensively, Penalty Killing is as rudimentary a skill on his resume as “proficient in most microsoft office applications” for an entry level job. if your main defenses for the guys job security are “he should’t be asked to touch the puck in the offensive zone” and “he shouldnt be asked to kill penalties” then why bother?

  • kyle boyd

    using stats found here

    empirical evidence that alzer shoots as much as erskine, at 5 on 5, alzner attempts a shot every 6.85 minutes, whereas erskine attempts a shot every 6.87 minutes.

  • Barrett

    How is it ridiculous to know your teammates strengths and weaknesses? If Backstrom is making that pass across to Green, Carlson or Orlov it probably isn’t an issue as they can corral a puck in their feet much easier, but a player like Erskine or Alzner don’t make that play. You have to know you need to hit the tape on his stick.

    The comment had nothing to do about Erskine being the one killing the penalty, it was in reference to Connor Carrick being 185lbs (soaking wet) with 17 games of NHL experience as Erskine’s partner in that situation. You’ve got four other defenseman that are more qualified.

  • Barrett

    Now look at how many times he shot and missed the net, or decides not to shoot the puck at all, which was my point to begin with. Alzner should have more shots on net when compared to ice time than Erskine, plain and simple.

  • kyle boyd

    taking that pass should be automatic for any nhler, is my point. you cant fault backstrom for making what should have been the safe play. if thats not something you can cunt on erskine to do, then why is he even in the zone? why not just sit back at center ice? of course that’s ridiculous, and he’s there to keep the puck in the zone and be a safe option away from the play. but he’s just seemed absolutely lost this season and so we get plays like that were we look shorthanded in the offensive zone.

    and if its the minor soccer play your talking about, i played hockey at a competitive level my whole life and i think i was 10 when i could reliably take a pass skate to stick when stationary. am i saying i can handle the puck better than erskine? no, because as i can do that, so can he, and so did he.

    your whole “if it was anyone else they could corral that puck in” argument is mute, because thats not where he went wrong. watch the video (or better yet, the .gif) and see what happens. he controls the puck, then begins to skate forward to change his angle, losing the puck when he starts forward, and then stumbling as he reaches back to try and save it. that’s embarrassing, and that’s been his biggest issue to me this year. he doesn’t look comfortable with the puck in the most basic of situations. i don’t know if its a confidence thing, or a concussion, but erskine just isn’t playing well. i can’t understand what it is that’s compelling you to defend him so much.

  • kyle boyd

    why? they’re both heralded as stay and home defensemen, neither is counted on for offense. why should we al expect alzner to get more shots on net than erskine? as if by not doing so he’s failing at his job. statistical analysis clearly isn’t compelling to you so i’ll use anecdotal. alzner is a better passer then erskine, and plays the blueline with a better shooter than erskine does. i perfectly expect alzner to shoot less considering A. he has the option to make some pretty smooth passes to forwards through traffic, and B. plays with a better partner who should be the one taking shots through traffic.

    offensively, erskines best and most underrated aspect is his shot. its a heavy, powerful shot that has the potential to bounce through traffic and create a nice rebound. is it accurate? no, and thats what keeps this “strength” of his as fairly minimal. but its something, and its something alot better than his passing, so when johny gets the puck i dont have an issue with him just flinging it at the net every time. when alzner does i do, because he has the skill set to do something potentially better.

  • Barrett

    I completely agree with Erskine and have no problem with him taking a shot when he has the puck, my point about Alzner is that he SHOULD shoot the puck more as opposed to passing it. He is fully capable of getting shots on net, but it never seems to go into his thought process when he gets a puck. It’s usually pass it, dump it in deep, then shoot it. He just needs to shoot more – good things happen when the puck goes towards the net.

    The entire offense has this pass first mentality which was clearly evident yesterday on the power play when Detroit took Ovechkin out of the play essentially creating a 4v3 power play and no one wanted to be the guy to shoot, not Backstrom, not Carlson, not Johansson and it wasn’t until Erat had the puck that he made a clear decision to attack the net.

  • Barrett

    I did watch the video. Backstrom fires a pass across the blue line that hits Erskine’s skate, he’s lucky he got his stick on the redirect off his skate and tried to make a play as the defender (Nyquist) is beginning to pressure him, as you point out he loses control….which goes back to my original statement about knowing who’s on the ice with you and not putting them in positions that expose their weaknesses (for Erskine it’s stick handling).

    I defend players like Erskine and Green because all everyone wants to do is bash and blame them for things that are not a direct result. There is nothing about the two videos of the goals from yesterday’s game that scream Erskine is a bad defender.

    It’s the same garbage that people were screaming for Mike Green to be traded because he cannot defend a 3v1 or 2v1 odd man rush effectively, but they completely ignore the reasons he is in those positions to begin with.

  • Perscky

    Long time lurker, first time poster: Is anybody else not surprised this isn’t the first post this season about Erskine’s poor play? I honestly love Erskine, for what he’s done for the team and his leadership on the ice through the years. But, does anybody feel like he’s almost a Brashear at this point? Just wondering.

  • bskillet

    Always liked Johnny E. and it is sad but it may be time for him to enjoy his time moving forward. Looks a lot like Hamrlik towards the end missing that much needed step.

  • factoryofsadness


  • from

    Alzner and Carlson play against tougher dudes than anyone

  • Barrett

    So what you are saying is Carlson and Alzner really aren’t that good? Their GF20 and GA20 stats are horrible at 5v5 compared to other teams top defensive pairings around the league.

  • gustafsson16

    At this point I almost feel like we should just be playing our young prospects in the 4/5/6 D spots and endure their learning mistakes. Strachan has no business in the NHL and Olesky, while a heartwarming story (and Ill always love an undersized guy that bleeds for this team) just isn’t ever going to be that every night NHL player. Orlov, Carrick, Schmidt, Kundratek – this is our rearguard future and they need to be playing over #4.