Erat's recent scoring surge propels Predators, changes perception

Sunday, February 5, 2012 at 8:47pm

Martin Erat admits that even he might have to reevaluate the merits of his slapshot.

The veteran forward scored the first goal of the Nashville Predators’ critical 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday when he let one go from straight away and just inside the blue line.

There was no screen or any sort of traffic so St. Louis goalie Jaroslav Halak saw the shot. He simply did not stop it.

“Maybe for Halak it was a lack of focus or something,” Erat said. “Or maybe I have a harder shot than I thought.

“I don’t know but I’m happy it went in and [gave] us a 1-0 lead.”

By the end of the night he added two assists and had his first three-point game in nearly a year. The last time he did so was Feb. 12 against Colorado, a game in which he also had one goal and two assists.

That continued a recent offensive surge has done more than make him the team’s leading scorer through 53 contests. It has forced those who might not have known much about him until recently and even those who have known him for years to reevaluate the 30-year-old’s importance to the Predators and his place in the league.

“To me, Marty is one of the most underrated players in the league,” coach Barry Trotz said. “I probably don’t give him enough credit. He’s a wonderful forward.”

Erat has racked up 16 points (four goals, 12 assists) in the last 13 games. That stretch includes six multi-point performances and one game-winning goal.

That has given him 39 points, four more than Nashville’s next highest point producer, defenseman Shea Weber, and seven more than the next highest-scoring forward, David Legwand. He has done so despite the fact that he missed eight of the season’s first nine games with an injury.

It hardly is the first time in his 10-plus NHL seasons and nearly 700 career games — all with the Predators — that he has enjoyed an offensive roll.

Last season he used a run of 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists) in the final 16 games of to finish tied with current linemate Sergei Kostitsyn for the team scoring lead. A year earlier he tied a franchise record for goals in a month with 10 in Dec. 2009, and added eight assists. His 18 points ranked among the top 10 for all NHL players that month.

“Marty’s had some great surges,” Trotz said. “The thing that I like with Marty is that Marty is scoring in different ways.

“How many slapshots have you seen Marty take in the 14 years that I’ve been here? Not a lot. But he’s doing that more, and he wired that one [Saturday].”

Predictably, his expanded arsenal has had an impact on his linemates. Kostitsyn has 11 points (five goals, six assists) in the last 13 games and center Mike Fisher has 15 points (eight goals, seven assists) and has tied Patric Hornqvist for the team lead with 15 goals.

“I’ve really enjoyed playing with him,” Fisher said. “He’s kind of a little bit of an unsung hero. He’s always consistent offensively and does a real good job for us.

“Sometimes he doesn’t get enough credit.”

Then again — in some ways — even Erat does not always give himself enough credit. Recent events, though, might change all of that.

Briefly

• With Saturday’s victory, Nashville improved to 12-2-2 against the Central Division, including 4-0-0 against the Blues.

Only reigning Stanley Cup champion Boston (12-2-0 against the Northeast) and Calgary (12-3-0 against the Northwest) have as many wins against their respective division.

• Fisher scored the game-winning goal against St. Louis. It was his fifth of the season, which gave him one more than Colin Wilson and sole possession of the team lead. It also moved him within one of his career-high (six) set in 2009-10 with Ottawa.