Capitals defend John Erskine as not a 'dirty player'

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John Erskine will likely be suspended for his elbow to the head of the Flyers’ Wayne Simmonds, but on Saturday his Capitals teammates defended his reputation.

Forward Matt Hendricks said there was “definitely was no intent” to injure Simmonds.

“From the bench it looked like a clean hit, it looked like accidental contact,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “It looked like they were both fighting for the puck, fighting for position and they just kind of ran into each other. Once you look at the film, it looked a little bit different but it was an accidental play if anything because Erskine isn’t a dirty player.”

Coach Adam Oates said Friday night after the 3-2 victory over Philadelphia that he hadn’t seen a replay of the incident. He took a look at it before addressing reporters Saturday.

“I think it’s really tough because you’ve got two guys going for the puck simultaneously and two big boys and it looked like simultaneous contact to me,” Oates said. “And he’s a clean player, so we’ll see.”

Even though he has never been suspended in the NHL, Erskine has something of a history. The big defenseman was suspended twice during the 2004-05 American Hockey League season while playing for the Dallas Stars’ affiliate, the Houston Aeros. He served on game in November 2004 for an incident with Rick Berry and a two-game suspension for actions against the same Utah team in February 2005.

Erskine elbowed Stars defenseman Trevor Daley into the boards in November 2011. A penalty was called on the play, but he was neither fined nor suspended.

The 6-foot-4, 200-pounder is known for being tough but not dirty.

“He does have that reputation around the league,” Hendricks said. “Guys know that John Erskine’s one of the toughest guys in the league by far but he does it within the rules of the game and he’s clean.”

A few players had still not seen a replay of Erskine’s elbow as of Saturday morning.

“It’s never good, but it happens,” defenseman Karl Alzner said of questionable incidents. “I know it’s happened to me where I’ve hit somebody that people didn’t like it or questioned it. Like I’ve said tons of times in the past, things happen so fast out there. You don’t have the chance to think.”

Simmonds did not return Friday night and was out of the Flyers’ game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.

“Wayne will not play in tonight’s game because of head and neck injuries suffered in last nights game,” Philadelphia general manager Paul Holmgren said. “He will be re-evaluated tomorrow.”

NHL VP of player safety Brendan Shanahan has included injuries as part of his suspension rationale in the past.

Last season when Caps center Nicklas Backstrom was concussed by a cheap-shot elbow to the head from Rene Bourque, Bourque was suspended five games. Backstrom played after the hit and skated two days later before missing 40 games.

“That was a lot different play from a lot different player, and I think with John they were both battling for good position, battling for the puck,” Hendricks said.

 

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