When John Erskine fired the eventual game-winner past Ondrej Pavelec last night, he not only capped off an incredibly impressive night for himself but also continued what has been a solid stretch of games overall for the big defenseman. Amid a blueline that has already suffered a cavalcade of injuries - and to big-minute, high-profile players - Erskine has emerged as a steady defensive presence while also (somewhat surprisingly) chipping in with some timely offense.
It wasn't always the case. Like most of his teammates, Erskine had a slow start to the season, getting dinged for several bad goals against and taking some ill-advised penalties. It was an inauspicious start to be sure.
But towards the end of October things started to turn around; he settled in and started to find his game. Since October 27 against Carolina (a game in which he logged a career high 27:53 of ice time) Erskine has registered two goals and three assists, a plus-six rating, and a pretty badass fight. He's also had seven shots on goal, another ten attempted that missed or were blocked, made a bone-rattling twenty-four hits, blocked eighteen shots and now has more goals/60 at even strength (on the season) than either Green or Carlson. Along the way he's taken just two minor penalties, a third of his total for the first half of the season.
In short he's become the solid third-pair defenseman the Caps need him to be, effective in his 15-16 minutes a night while the younger blueliners adjust to the NHL and the veterans get healthy. He's providing physicality without taking himself out of position, sacrificing his body to block shots and using a highly underrated shot of his own to provide (or at least kick-start) some offense. He's made smart plays, plays that show up on the scoresheet and others that don't - but that are equally appreciated by his teammates.
It's not often that a guy like John Erskine stands out on a team like the Caps, filled with superstar Russians and Norris Trophy candidates. As his team struggles to find its identity and establish its groove, however, Erskine has been a steadying presence - an anchor deep within the blueline while the team rights the ship.