Erat and Suter on opposite sides tonight in Washington
By: Ben Raby (www.twitter.com/benraby31)
In the time between the 2005 NHL lockout and the 2012 NHL work stoppage, no two players skated in more games with the Nashville Predators than defenseman Ryan Suter and forward Martin Erat.
Beginning with his 2005-06 rookie season, Suter represented the Predators in 542 career games before signing a 13-year $98 million deal with the Minnesota Wild in July 2012.
Erat was the only other player to suit up in as many as 500 games with Nashville from 2005-2012, doing so 504 times during the seven year window.
Tonight at Verizon Center, the longtime Nashville teammates meet again as Erat and the Capitals host Suter and the Wild (6:45 Pregame on the Capitals Radio Network) for the first of two meetings this season.
"On the ice, he just seems so flawless," Erat said of the 2013 Norris Trophy finalist. "He makes all the right decisions and he makes the game seem so much easier."
Erat notes that while the 6-foot-1, 200-pound Suter isn't exactly the most physically imposing defenseman in the NHL, he is sound positionally, a strong skater and a terrific distributor of the puck.
"He struggled his first year," as a 21-year-old Erat said, "but you could see his talent and you knew it was only a matter of time before he'd get it all together and get stronger. But now he’s such a good and smooth defenseman, there are only a couple of guys like this in the League."
Suter is also durable- a minutes-eater who has played more regular-season hockey than any other NHL player since the 2011-12 season. Suter led the NHL in total ice-time last year while skating a League-high 27:16 per game. He is also tops this season, with an average of 28:31 TOI per game.
Even though Adam Oates and the host Capitals have the last change tonight, expect to see a whole lot of Suter and partner Jonas Brodin against Washington's No.1 line of Erat, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin.
Reunion Night Part Deux:
Tonight’s game at Verizon Center also marks the first time that Minnesota forward Zach Parise will skate in the District since recording a hat-trick in a 5-0 New Jersey Devils win over the Capitals on March 2, 2012.
Among the coaches behind the Devils bench that afternoon was then-Devils assistant and current Caps head coach Adam Oates.
"When we had him in Jersey," Parise recalled Thursday, "what impressed me, which a lot of people probably don’t know is the way he helped our defensemen. It was incredible how much he helped them. He made our team so much better. He thinks hockey on a completely different level from everyone else. He sees things differently, and he was good in terms of always coming in the day after a game and sitting next to guys or he'd sit next to me at my stall and show me five or six clips of things you did well, or he'd show you how you could do things differently so you learn a lot from playing for him."
Oates spent two seasons on the Devils coaching staff from 2010-12, with Parise serving as the team captain during the 2011-12 campaign which ended with an Eastern Conference Championship.
"I was with him for two years in New Jersey and he is what everybody says he is," Oates said of the Minnesota native who leads the Wild with 14 points in 16 games this season.
"He's a great team guy, a great player, he shows up every single day and he’s relentless. That’s probably his best quality- he's a relentless player, he never gives up and he brings the team along with him which is a huge asset and probably why he was in such high demand."
Parise and Suter agreed to identical 13-year, $98 million deals with Minnesota on July 4, 2012, as the Wild snatched the two players who were widely believed to be at the top of the 2012 free agent class.
Now, two seasons removed from working together with the Devils, Parise continues to rely on the tricks of the trade that were passed on from Oates.
Parise also laughed at memories of Oates going through all of the Devils players' personal stick collections and suggesting that they all order new ones.
"Things that are so subtle like picking pucks up off the wall or getting your stick involved in the fore check, things that are so small that make such a difference."
"He switched my stick about four times," Parise said with a laugh. "He’d always go through each of our players sticks and it was like 'that's junk, that's junk, that's junk…' He’d want all the guys to switch their curves and their sticks but it amazing though once guy did (switch), how much better they could handle the puck. There was something to it."