By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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Independent voices from the TWT Communities
He hadn't scored for the Washington Capitals since April 18 and he hadn't scored in the playoffs since April 27, 2008. Still, the playmaking No. 2 center didn't let shifts that went by without production shake him.
Martin Erat won't be in the Washington Capitals' lineup for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals Friday night against the New York Rangers after suffering an apparent left wrist or forearm injury in Game 4.
Since their horrid 2-8-1 start, the Caps are 23-10-1. They could clinch the Southeast Division and corresponding No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference as soon as Tuesday. And they believe they can beat anyone.
It's no coincidence that the Caps are 12-2-1 in their past 15 games since Ovechkin and Backstrom were reunited.
The Caps lead a division that could better be known as the Southeasy based largely on their 12-3 record against the Jets, Hurricanes, Lightning and Panthers. They're 9-14-2 against the rest of the Eastern Conference yet would earn the No. 3 seed in the playoffs if they maintain this lead.
When Troy Brouwer, Mathieu Perreault, Jack Hillen and John Carlson celebrated, it was like the Caps had won a playoff game, and Cheshire Cat smiles on the bench greeted Chimera on his way back.
The 22-year-old center scored two power-play goals in the third period to lift the Islanders to a 5-2 win over Washington, ending the Capitals' three-game winning streak.
After giving up a goal 23 seconds in to the second half of back-to-back games, players cite fatigue and want to move on. But going into Saturday's game at the Winnipeg Jets, they know the value of a good start.
"Some nights you didn't even know if he was going to come to the rink," Brouwer said. "It's tough to play alongside guys like those because you don't know what you're gonna get out of them."
After a bumpy ride during his first four full NHL seasons, Eric Fehr was a healthy scratch for the Washington Capitals, then a fourth-liner. When given the opportunity with more minutes and an increased role, Fehr took advantage, scoring three goals in the past three games.
Mathieu Perreault wanted to show what he could do after four games as a healthy scratch. Eric Fehr wanted to show what he could do with some more playing time. Joel Ward wanted to show what he could do with more responsibility.
Capitals coach Adam Oates even acknowledged that Saturday night's triumph over Florida was "only one win." It doesn't mask some season-long scoring deficiencies and a tendency to make mistakes in bunches.
Marcus Johansson knew he had to be better after coach Adam Oates benched him in the third period of a loss to Winnipeg last week. But the Washington Capitals forward didn't do enough in the interim to avoid being a healthy scratch for Sunday's game against the Buffalo Sabres.
Oates made it well-known to his players when he arrived that the Caps were a team of opportunity. "He's an honest coach. He said that from Day One that hard work's going to pay off around here," Matt Hendricks said. "Do the systems correctly, work hard at what you do and you'll be rewarded."
Perreault, 25, told Le Journal de Montreal and La Presse, two French-language newspapers in his native province of Quebec, that he could not be patient for the remainder of his two-year contract with the Caps and that if he wasn't in the team's plans, it should trade him. He attempted to clarify what he meant in English after Thursday's morning skate.