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Tom Poti replaces John Erskine for Caps vs. Penguins

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Tom Poti didn’t want John Erskine to get suspended.

“It’s not the way you want to get in the lineup,” the veteran Washington Capitals defenseman said.

But that’s where Poti finds himself Sunday afternoon when the Caps face the Pittsburgh Penguins without Erskine, banned three games for elbowing Wayne Simmonds in the face.

“It’s been tough,” Poti said. “I was finally starting to get my legs a little bit and starting to feel a little comfortable. And I’ve had to sit out five games or so. So kind of have to go back to square one and start all over again.”

Poti’s improbable comeback from groin injuries and a fractured pelvis culminated Jan. 19 in his first NHL game in more than two years. The 35-year-old played three games before being taken out as a healthy scratch.

“[Coach Adam Oates and assistant Calle Johansson] didn’t say too much,” Poti said. “When they took me out of the lineup they said they wanted to give a couple of other guys a chance to play and give them a few games, and then those guys played well so they didn’t want to take them out.”

Erskine’s suspension is just the break Poti needs to get back into a groove.

“I definitely need to get in a game,” Poti said. “You don’t want to sit out too long and get stale. It’s hard to have your game legs when you’re not playing. For me I think it’s important for me to get out there and get adjusted to the pace of the game and things like that.”

The Caps were preparing Saturday to be without Erskine for at least Sunday afternoon’s game. Poti wasn’t skated hard like previous days, and with no morning skate Sunday he got some necessary work in.

The compressed, 48-game schedule is difficult on a lot of players, but it’s particularly hard on Poti given how long he was out of the game with injuries.

“It’s nice to get some practices, but obviously we don’t have that luxury because there’s no practice time,” he said. “Pretty much it’s three games every four nights or so like that. It’s been tough, and the only way to really get out there and feel comfortable is to get in the games and get into game shape.”

Oates, speaking before the NHL announced the three-game suspension for Erskine, said he expects Poti to be ready to play because “that’s part of being a pro.” And he hopes to get a professional effort out of Poti.

“Listen, he had two years off. He knows how to play the game,” Oates said. “And he’s had another week of skating at this speed, NHL speed, to see the game and also see our system, which I think is growing within the team. We talk about it out there, what I see that he needs to do to fit into the system.”

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