The first seven games of the 2013-14 NHL season could be described as nothing short of a disappointment for the Washington Capitals, as their 2-5 record is simply unacceptable. During this poor stretch nobody on the team’s roster can boast that they had played their best hockey, or even average hockey for that matter. The team ranks 21st in average goals per game scored and 26th goals per against average, further explaining that there is plenty of blame to go around.
With the struggles of the entire roster in mind it has been very strange that head coach Adam Oates has seemingly decided to not change anything throughout the season. He has continued to use Braden Holtby as the team’s starting goaltender, Mike Green as a 25 minute per game defenseman and Eric Fehr as a second line winger.
None of these decisions were working out well to say the least, which made it extremely uplifting when Oates announced on Friday that he has moved Martin Erat from the fourth line to the second line left winger.
Over the previous eight seasons, Erat has played a averaged a minimum of 17:55 on the ice per game, and no less than .53 points per game during this time. In this stretch, Erat showed an innate ability to find his way to at least 50 points per season with ease, as he possesses some of the best hands in the NHL, along with an innate ability to find his teammates wide open in goal scoring areas.
The main downfall to his ability throughout his career has been consistently poor positioning in the defensive zone, and a general lack of willingness to do the dirty work in this area of the ice. As could be expected, this combination of skills did not translate well by any means to the muck and grind of playing on the fourth line.
When this lack of a grinder’s skill set is combined with the fact that Erat is signed for both this season and next at a $4.5 million cap hit, it is clear that playing him on the fourth lane simply wasn’t feasible. The decision to put him back in his rightful place of second line scorer will invariably bring more chances to a struggling Capitals offense, and also allow the fourth line to field players who are willing and able to play a physical game.
In turn, the Capitals can be expected to have a much better team in terms of top to bottom balance, which will help the likes of Fehr and Brooks Laich better assimilate to roles which fit them, and as a result provide more opportunity for Alexander Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom to put up epic statistics.
Simply put, moving Erat to the fourth line is a win for everyone involved with the Capitals, and could be the move that saves Adam Oates his job.