Alex Ovechkin is “probably” going to start on Tuesday night against the New York Islanders according to Washington Capitals head coach Adam Oates. Having their star player back and healthy is huge for the Caps, but what is Oates going to do with Martin Erat?
Left wing Erat bonded remarkably well with center Nicklas Backstrom on the top line during Ovechkin’s absence, scoring two points. He certainly didn’t seem out of place like you might expect from a guy just filling in. However, if Monday’s practice skate is anything to go by, Erat is destined to fall from the top line to the fourth line. Taking his place on the top line on Monday — Brooks Laich.
That sets up an interesting quandary for Oates. Erat has proved that he can top 20 goals a season, and he averaged over 18 goals per term with the Nashville Predators for 10 seasons. He’s experienced and has 50 postseason games under his belt. Furthermore, the Caps sent top prospect Filip Forsberg to Nashville to acquire Erat, proving that Erat is simply not a bottom-six forward. It’s time for Oates to keep him in his promoted position.
If Oates goes with a top line of Erat at left wing, Backstrom at center and Ovechkin at right wing, it would keep Marcus Johansson at left wing on the second line. That’s a wise choice as Johansson has underperformed on the top line. Oates should then put Laich in as second-line center in favor of Eric Fehr who would drop to fourth-line left wing or be scratched in favor of Aaron Volpatti. The lines would then look like this on Tuesday night:
Erat – Backstrom – Ovechkin
Johansson – Laich – Brouwer
Chimera – Grabovski – Ward
Fehr/Volpatti – Latta – Wilson
The only certainty is that third line. It’s been on fire of late and the only line with any kind of constant chemistry and production.
Oates was coy on his starting lines for the Islanders game. However, he offered up some praise for Erat saying:
“He’s a guy that depending on who you play him with, he’s got a great skill set, he complicates guys.”
The Capitals need consistency. If Oates keeps Erat on the top line for Tuesday’s game, it should be for the indefinite future. The 32-year-old has 484 points from 732 games; those are not fourth-line numbers.