It had been just about 21 months since Capitals defenseman John Erskine last scored a goal for his team. That came in the final game of the 2011 season – a bitter loss on May 4 that completed a sweep at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. That was also just about the last time Erskine received regular playing time for Washington. He appeared in only 28 games under two different coaches last season – an agonizing year where Erskine watched one player after another earn ice time over him. After Jan. 31 he appeared in just one regular season game, though he did dress for four playoff contests.

“Last year I only played like 27 games. I wouldn’t even count that as a year,” Erskine said.

But maybe the 32-year-old, now in his seventh year with the organization, bought himself some more time with a goal Sunday against the Buffalo Sabres. It’s not his job. And Erskine did take a tripping penalty earlier in the game and was on the ice for Tyler Ennis’ first-period goal for Buffalo. But he was also trusted with 20:56 of ice time skating alongside John Carlson and was even credited with three shots on goal and three blocked shots.

After being a healthy scratch three games in a row – an ugly reminder of last year – Erskine has now played in two straight. It seems unlikely coach Adam Oates would put him back on the shelf with a game in Ottawa looming on Tuesday.

“I wouldn’t say I was surprised. I just threw it at the net and you never know what can happen,” Erskine said. “It can go off people and in the net. That’s the way goals are going in these days…I was gonna unleash the big cannon first and then he got in the lane so I just threw a little muffin and good stuff happens.”

No, it wasn’t the hardest shot in the world. But the Caps needed it. That goal put them ahead 2-1 at 3:18 of the second and eventually sent them into the locker room with a lead at the end of a period for the first time all season.

Said teammate Joel Ward: “Well, Erskine shoots a lot harder than that. I know it. He’s got a heck of a shot, which is very key to have, especially for getting pucks through. I think Erskine’s shot is pretty underrated, actually. A lot of people don’t give him credit, but he’s got one of hardest shots here, for sure. Obviously, he’s a big guy, and you don’t want to be blocking a guy that’s covered in all that many tattoos like that in your way. So no, Erskine – hats off to him. He’s been playing hard the last couple games, and it’s good for him to get his confidence up too.”

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