John Erskine last played a game for the Washington Capitals in last year’s playoffs, on April 28. So when the big defenseman made his season debut Friday night at the New Jersey Devils, it’s reasonable that there was some rust.
“I think getting your legs into it and some timing is still not there,” Erskine said Saturday. “But for my first game back in a long time, I felt pretty good.”
Erskine wasn’t eased in; he skated 26 shifts for 17 minutes, 30 seconds. The last time the 32-year-old played above 13 minutes was Dec. 13, 2011.
With eight defensemen on the roster, it’s not certain how often Erskine will play. It might be again Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres or it might not be again for a week or more.
“No matter how much you practice, even if you play and you get hurt and you’re out for two weeks, no matter how much you practice, you’re still not going to be in game shape,” Erskine said. “You have to play a few games to do that. But once you play a game here or there, it all comes back pretty quick.”
Coach Adam Oates explained that he subbed Erskine, Jeff Schultz and right wing Eric Fehr into the lineup because he wanted “fresh legs.” Erskine said he felt fresh.
And it wasn’t a difficult adjustment to play with John Carlson.
“I played with Carly a couple years ago, so it was no real change,” Erskine said. “I know his style and how he plays.”
Erskine was effective on the penalty kill and wasn’t on the ice for a goal against until Ilya Kovalchuk’s overtime game-winner. And that was a chaotic situation and not on Erskine.
The expectation from Oates and assistant Calle Johansson was simple going into the Devils game.
“Just to play my game, stick with the system and play a simple game,” Erskine said.
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound defenseman didn’t play in the first three games, so sticking to Oates’ system was on his mind.
“We study it all the time and do video and all that. We know in our heads,” Erskine said. “For me I hadn’t played a real game with it. I was thinking maybe a little bit too much, but I think after the first 10 minutes I felt pretty good.”