The Washington Times - December 2, 2011, 09:23AM

There’s no doubting that John Erskine falling down while trying to defend Chris Kunitz played a role in the Penguins’ game-winning goal Thursday night. But up to that point, it had been a fine performance by Erskine.

Early on, it was a fight against Arron Asham – a 10-bell slugfest following Pittsburgh’s first goal – that made Erskine notable. The big defenseman had talked previously about his surgically repaired left shoulder and how it responded to fights, but he didn’t let that bother him.

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It was just a fight trying to get the crowd into it,” Erskine said following the Capitals’ 2-1 loss. “We went down 1-0 there. When the fight actually happened, you have so much adrenaline that you really don’t think about the shoulder. But it held up fine, and it feels good right now.”

According to coach Dale Hunter, it was certainly no coincidence that Erskine fought Asham, the same player who knocked out Jay Beagle in a fight Oct. 13, then proceeded to do a couple gestures to the disdain of the Caps.

There’s a lot of pride in the room there,” Hunter said. “He was sticking up for his teammate. He did a great job.”

Erskine and Asham had one of the best fights perhaps in the NHL this season, with the big Caps defenseman probably landing more. At the time it didn’t totally shift the momentum, but the bout and a lot of hits kept about a 75/25 percent Caps/Penguins crowd at Verizon Center in the game.

Erskine did his best to keep the Caps in it by marking Evgeni Malkin all night. The Penguins star, who was exceedingly better than Sidney Crosby on this night, couldn’t do much when Erskine was on him, especially along the boards. One particularly nice play included Erskine picking Malkin’s pocket to force a turnover.

You just can’t give him time,” Erskine said. “When he gets the puck, if you’re right on him, you can’t give him that time to dangle and make plays.”

Erskine smothered Malkin and contributed in a major way to keeping him off the score sheet.

“He did a good job,” Hunter said. “[The goal is] one of those freak things where you trip, and that’s a hockey play. It’s part of the game, and unfortunately it went in for him because he was playing well.”