When Martin Erat waived his no-movement clause to allow a trade from the Nashville Predators to the Washington Capitals, it was a lateral move in the standings. Each team had 38 points, but Erat based his desire on coming to the Caps on a larger body of work.
“It wasn’t a decision about how they do this year or whatever. It’s all about the organization and how they act the last 10, 15 years,” Erat said. “They always are a contender for the Cup and they want to be there every single year, and that was important for me.”
It certainly helped that the Caps were on an upswing and cruising toward the Southeast Division lead, while the Predators are in the middle of a youth movement. Ex-Caps prospect Filip Forsberg has already played two NHL games with the Predators, but at 18 years old he’s still raw.
As for the 31-year-old Erat, his first two weeks in Washington included only four games because of a lower-body injury suffered April 6. But Erat is settling in now, playing on the power play, penalty kill and scoring his first goal since the trade Tuesday in a 5-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“It feels great. I’m just getting stronger every day,” Erat said. “It was a tough start for me when you get hurt in second game, but my game, I hope it’s going to get better and [I’ll] just learn the system and be ready for playoffs.”
Erat scored just after a Caps power play expired on a nifty deflection of a shot from Alex Ovechkin. The captain, who leads the NHL with 28 goals, took his time on a wrist shot and fired it right at Erat’s stick in front.
“Kind of a set play, yeah,” Ovechkin said. “I think if you see that, you have to make a play right there.”
Erat said those kinds of plays were a topic of conversation with coaches before the game. The Caps need other options to score when opponents key on Ovechkin.
Erat’s just as good a possibility as anyone. He’s not someone who scores a lot of goals by picking a corner of the net on goalies; instead, he’s a cerebral player who’s smart enough to put himself in high-quality areas.
But in the case of his first goal with the Caps, he’ll take it any way he could get it. With a victory, of course.
“For sure, it’s always a relief when you get the first one in new team,” the left wing said. “But the most important thing is we got the two points.”
Oates’ tough message
Specifically in regards to center Mathieu Perreault and, earlier in the season, left wings Wojtek Wolski and Jason Chimera, coach Adam Oates has stressed correct play over production. The bottom two lines are clicking right now, and that doesn’t even have to require scoring goals.
“Obviously your statistics are not always up there,” Oates said. “I try and make them not focus on stats. Because it’s hard in this league to score and we count on you for more than just that.”
The line of Chimera, Perreault and Eric Fehr has done its job recently, and the fourth line of Aaron Volpatti, Matt Hendricks and Jay Beagle is good at putting pressure on opponents by cycling the puck in the offensive zone. That’s the kind of thing Oates wants to see, even if “at times” it’s a hard message to get across to players brought up concentrating on stats.
“You still get rewarded financially for what you do in this league,” Oates said. “That’s where it starts obviously with the [general manager] and the coach that, ‘Hey, look, you’re going to get paid because you play hockey for us.’ And statistics will come because of that.”
Oates said it’s not a subject he addresses with players all the time. Riding an eight-game winning streak helps alleviate the pressure on players to produce.
“It’s just that’s a human-nature thing, I think,” Oates said. “Obviously when you’re going good and you’re playing well, team is winning, all those little things seem to be put aside. You don’t have to address it that often. So obviously we’re on a good streak when it comes to that and every day we get a chance to focus on more details.”