Martin Erat of the Washington Capitals gets it. He’s been a professional hockey player long enough to know that the NHL is a performance-based business. If you score goals and manage the puck well, you get to be a top-six forward more often than not. If you fail to cash in on your talent and chances, you end up sinking down the depth chart.
It took Erat all of one game to bounce back after being under utilized to start the 2013-14 NHL season. He hasn’t been happy about his diminishing role, and used that as motivation to fire off three assists as soon as he was inserted into Washington’s top-six on the second line. As Washington was hunting for a win against the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets, Erat was given the chance to elevate his game, and he answered loud and clear.
Guess who probably won’t be languishing on the third line any time soon?
Erat played a season-high 17:49 and seemed to gel nicely and have fun on a line with Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer. Brouwer in particular was sparked by the combination and took six shots on net.
Heading the other way for the Capitals is Mikhail Grabovski, who barely played more than 12 minutes in the contest against the Blue Jackets. He’d averaged over 17 minutes through the first seven games, but no longer seems to be getting the benefit of the doubt from coach Adam Oates
The biggest hit to Grabovski’s ice time came on the power play. He had been lining up on the top unit, but found himself replaced by Marcus Johansson against Columbus. Grabovski played all of 13 seconds with the extra man, way below his typical showing.
Considering the line combinations resulted in a win, it’s unlikely that there will be many changes heading into Tuesday’s matchup against the Winnipeg Jets. That means that Erat will continue to get chances and be rewarded for responding to his coach’s challenge, while Grabovski will continue to sink.