On Tuesday, Washington Capitals defenseman Erik Gustafsson spoke to the media following practice. He discussed getting acquainted on the ice under a new defense system and feeling welcome in Washington.
After a week of practices and playing alongside fellow blueliner Trevor van Riemsdyk, Gustafsson said, “It feels good. I [knew] him since Chicago…he’s a very good player.” The two played together “a little bit, not too often” during their tenures with the Blackhawks. Gustafsson noted he “felt good on the power-play” and “moved the puck well” in Sunday’s 4-3 overtime preseason loss to the Buffalo Sabres.
The 30-year-old Swede is continuing to get acquainted with the Capitals’ defense system. “I got a couple of videos right off when I signed here from the [defense] coach,” Gustafsson said. “I’ve been looking over some clips a lot. It’s a little different when you’re on the ice, but I’m getting there and some small stuff I have to learn. That’s what these [preseason] games are for, but in the practice-wise, I feel confident.”
On what he can bring to the team, Gustafsson said, “I have to play a solid game. Just to be on the right side, play hard and when I get the puck back, I think I can manage the puck and play the first pass from our zone well and join the rush as much as I can. They like the [defense] to follow up here, and that’s what I like and that’s what I can bring to this team…chip in some offense and try to hold onto the puck and create some scoring chances.”
Defenseman John Carlson sits to the left of Gustafsson in the locker room and Gustafsson said it helps “a lot” having the Capitals’ veteran with getting comfortable and accustomed in Washington. “When I came to Chicago, I had Duncan Keith, and Carlson’s the same way…talks a lot and trying to help me out as much as he can and always a great guy in the locker room. You hear him a lot, so it’s nice to have him close. I can ask him whatever I want, even on the ice and stuff like that, so it’s good to have him.”
All the guys are helping Gustafsson feel welcome in D.C. and Arlington. He said, “I haven’t been here a lot in Arlington, but downtown and the small restaurants and stuff like that.”
“It’s a little different from the downtown rush I lived in Chicago, so I like this more. I can tell you that…Having three kids, I rented a house here too, so it’s nice to have a backyard to let the kids go out in the backyard.” Gustaffson has a five-year-old, three-year-old, and a nine-month-old.
On the team, Gustafsson said “it’s great,” adding, “I know a bunch of Swedish [guys] first when I came here, but all the other guys have been great to me ever since I came over here. It’s a great group of guys in the locker room…it was hard to play against this team even last year too, so it’s nice to be in here.”
“They have a great group, and they know how to win, and that’s what we want to do, right?” Gustafsson said. “They like the [defense] to join the rush, and that’s where I can bring to the team too. That’s what I want to bring, so that’s kinda the reason why I wanted to sign here. It’s a great group and great place to live too.”
Gustafsson and the Capitals are back in preseason action Wednesday night taking on the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center. NBC Sports Washington and NHL Network will have the coverage at 7 PM ET.
By Della Young