Entering Tuesday night’s contest against the Vancouver Canucks, the Nashville Predators are 12-3-0 since the turn of the calendar year. While a lot of attention has been given to Nashville’s Vezina Trophy nominated goaltender, Pekka Rinne, who is riding an 11-game winning streak, up front it is Predators forward Martin Erat who quietly leads the way.
Erat has 39 points in 45 games this season, including 12 goals and 27 assists. His totals are good for nearly a point per game, with the Czech native posting 4 goals and 12 assists for 16 points since January 1st.
Furthermore, Erat has amassed 9 points, including 2 goals and 7 assists in his last seven games. On Saturday night, the right wing forward picked up his 12th goal of the season and assisted on Nashville’s other two tallies in the Predators 3-1 win over the St. Louis Blues.
Drafted in the seventh round, 191st overall in 1999, Erat has been a fixture in the Predators lineup since 2001.
But there is something different about Erat this year and the forward says it is all about his health. After missing eight games after the season opening contest in Columbus with an upper-body injury, Erat has remained in the lineup.
“I have no injuries,” Erat explained. “Always before, I have had some injuries during the season and I would miss 10 or 11 games in the middle of the season or even more than that. It takes time to really get back when returning to the lineup. Right now, I have no injuries and that is probably the reason,” Erat said as he knocked on the wall of the locker room facilities at Centennial Sportsplex where the Predators practice.
Erat currently plays on Nashville’s top line with Mike Fisher and Sergei Kostitsyn. Offensively, Erat, Fisher and Kostitsyn have been putting on a clinic for all to see. Kostitsyn has 14 points in 15 games, including 8 goals and 6 assists.
Fisher has 15 points in his last 16 games, including 9 goals and 6 assists.
Fisher says once the line was able to play together for a while they were able to put some points up on the board. “I missed the first little bit of the season. Marty missed some time. Sergei played hurt for a while. We struggled for the first few games, especially on the road. It has been nice to finally be able to come together,” Fisher said, adding, “We have been scoring. We need to keep going because we need to provide some offense for this team.”
The former Ottawa Senator, who the Predators visit later this week, credits Erat for a lot of the line’s success. “Marty works real hard and gets in those areas. He is really hungry and strong on the puck. He does everything. He makes great plays. He’s been great for us.”
Erat has been producing in clutch situations for Nashville. Seventeen of his 39 points have come in the last five minutes of regulation, including 5 goals and 12 assists. David Legwand says Erat is playing some of the best hockey of his career this season. “He has been huge. Obviously he is a good hockey player. He is skating. He is working and he is at his best right now,” Legwand said.
When Erat scores a goal, Nashville is 10-1-0, the only loss coming against the Dallas Stars on December 23rd. At home, the Predators are a perfect 7-0-0 when Erat finds the back of the net.
But Erat is not only an offensive-minded player.
Nick Spaling, who plays on average just over 2 minutes a game on the penalty kills says Erat’s defensive side is often overlooked. “A lot of people look at him as just an offensive player, but his defensive play goes unnoticed. At the end of a tight game, he is the one who is usually on the ice. That is something a lot of people don’t see.”
“He does it all. He plays on the power play and penalty kill and he is always creating chances at even strength. He is always putting points up and giving other guys he plays with the opportunity to put points up. He is a real valuable player for us. Going forward, he will help us going down the road,” Spaling added.
Erat averages over a minute per game on the penalty kill.
Another penalty killer, Matt Halischuk, says the Predators themselves know what they have in Erat. “I think everyone in this room knows what he can do on the penalty kill. He is a really smart player, and everyone knows it. He is one of our leaders. He isn’t underrated in this room, but around the League he might be.”
Head Coach Barry Trotz agrees. “The thing about Marty is he’s scoring in different ways. How many slapshots have you seen him take in fourteen years? Not a lot, but he’s doing that more. I like the fact that Marty isn’t just playing one way, he’s adapting to the game. To me he’s one of the most underrated players in the league,” Trotz said after Erat’s three-point night on Saturday.
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