Defenseman says he wasn't trying to hurt Simmonds with elbow

In 11 years in the NHL, Capitals defenseman John Erskine had never been suspended. He had been fined just once. He thought -- hoped -- that would earn him some leeway when Brendan Shanahan, the NHL's vice president of player safety, reviewed Erskine's elbow of Philadelphia forward Wayne Simmonds during a game on Friday.

No such luck. Instead, Shanahan suspended Erskine for three games and fined him $24,324.33, calling the play "reckless."

"I'm not happy with the suspension. I think [Shanahan] did what he had to do," Erskine said. "It was more like a reflex thing. My elbow kind of came up at the last second. I wasn't targeting his head or trying to injure him. It was a quick play that happened."

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He later added: "I don't think it was a reckless play or a reckless elbow. I wasn't flying down the ice a hundred miles an hour with my elbow up in the air. That's what he called it, and I gotta live with it."

Erskine expressed remorse when told Simmonds had missed Saturday's game against Carolina with a concussion. Even Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren noted Friday that Erskine's track record is clean for such a rugged defenseman. Erskine said he sent a text apologizing to Simmonds, who is friends with Caps forward Joel Ward.

"I think any type of head shots, they gotta look at," Erskine said. "You don't want that in the game. I don't know, mine, it was by accident. It was more like a reflex thing."

The NHL had originally set the time of Erskine's phone hearing with Shanahan at 2 p.m. on Saturday but pushed it back since Erskine's agent was on a plane at the time. But it was pretty clear during the hearing, as Shanahan reviewed the play on video, which direction he was headed.

And so Erskine, who had played five games in a row and looked reasonably good doing so, instead has to sit and watch. He missed Sunday's game against Pittsburgh, will sit for Tuesday's contest against Toronto and will finish his suspension Thursday when the Caps travel to play the Penguins again. Tom Poti took his place in the lineup Sunday. Erskine is eligible to return Saturday night against the Florida Panthers.

"The good thing about this is that we have so many games so quickly, so it's not like I'm on the shelf for a week and a half or two weeks," Erskine said. "I think it'll be a quick five days or so, and I'll get right back at it."

Erskine will miss a rematch with the Maple Leafs (4-4-0, eight points) on Tuesday at Verizon Center. Washington (2-6-1, five points), which sits in last place in the 15-team Eastern Conference, led a game in Toronto 2-1 entering the third period Thursday. But for a second game in a row the Caps couldn't hold it en route to a 3-2 loss.

The Maple Leafs will be playing their second game in as many nights after taking on the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh on Monday.