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Martin Erat impresses Adam Oates in Capitals debut

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Martin Erat’s day began with a 4 a.m. wake-up call. A 6:30 flight from Nashville to Washington got him to the Capitals’ practice facility by 9:30, and he was on the ice with teammates by 10.

Twelve hours later, his debut was complete and the Caps were in first place in the Southeast Division.

“It’s kind of hard for me, you know, with all the crazy stuff that comes with the trade,” Erat said after Thursday night’s 2-1 shootout victory over the New York Islanders. “My plane was leaving at 6 o’clock in the morning, which means I didn’t get enough sleep. I was so excited to be here, and excited to be in this city.”

Erat played 14:43 and was held without a point in his first game with the Caps since being traded from the Predators just before the deadline. But coach Adam Oates praised Erat’s performance.

“I think he did a great job. I really did, yeah,” Oates said. “You can see, obviously, his skills. He really helped us in the cycle. He’s a smart guy, you can tell. I thought he did a great job. Getting traded is not always easy. He played on a franchise for a long time and all of a sudden you’ve got to go out the door and say goodbye and meet new guys and step into a lineup. You know, it’s nerve-wracking. Very stressful.”

Erat dealt with his fair share of stress. But his first impressions of the Caps were positive.

“It’s always hard when you have to come to a team and don’t practice with those guys,” the 31-year-old winger said. “They are great players, and it was very good to play with them.”

Erat skated on the third line with Mathieu Perreault and Joel Ward. He was noticeable keeping the play alive in the offensive zone and because of some nifty passes to set up scoring chances.

Oates likes the mental aspect of Erat’s game already.

“He knows how to play his position. He knows how to play in the game,” the Caps’ coach said. “I talked to a couple guys I know from the Czech national team, and they said, ‘You’re gonna really like his hockey IQ.’ I can see that. He didn’t put himself in bad positions.”

Given how well Marcus Johansson has been playing, it’s possible Erat remains in a second- or third-line role in the near future. Erat has familiarity with Ward from their time as linemates in Nashville, so chemistry is not an issue there.

Brooks Laich, who has been playing left win on the second line, suffered an undisclosed injury and left Thursday night’s game. Oates said Laich’s injury was “nothing major,” but if the 29-year-old forward cannot play Saturday at the Florida Panthers, Erat would be a good fit with Mike Ribeiro and Troy Brouwer.

“He’s great guy in locker room, laughing at where he is, and you can see how he make a play, how he control the puck behind the net and in the corner,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “I think he makes pretty good passes today. It’s a very good pickup by us.”

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