Fehr scores on Friday. (Photo credit: Patrick McDermott)
Eric Fehr has rarely had an easy season in the NHL. Under Bruce Boudreau, the former 18th overall pick was often under-utilized, banished to the bottom-six or the press box. Late in his first stint with the Washington Capitals in 2011, Fehr suffered a serious shoulder injury, a problem that plagued him for nearly two years. Because of that, he struggled in his only season with his hometown Winnipeg Jets after being traded from Washington. Looking for a job after the NHL lockout, Caps general manager George McPhee decided to take another chance on Fehsie. The 28-year-old, for the most part, succeeded, notching 17 points in the shortened season.
Rather than settle in with a nice role on second or third line, however, Fehr was asked to try something he’s never done before: play center. He spent much of October at pivot, registering just one goal. The shift, Fehr admitted, was difficult. Playing in the middle requires you to be much more aware, along with increased defensive responsibilities and not having a set position on the ice. Fehr’s struggles were understandable. Playing center for the first time in not something you can adjust to in a few preseason games. After the experiment Fehr then spent two games on the first line in early November after Alex Ovechkin went down with an upper-body injury. He did well in that spot, picking up a few points that week.
“It’s a very unique season for me,” Fehr told me Friday night. “I knew coming there was a good chance I was going to play center, but it’s been a little bit different.”
Inexplicably, head coach Adam Oates then scratched him for the next nine games. He was allowed back in the lineup only when another player in the coach’s doghouse, Martin Erat, got sent to the press box after he requested a trade.
“He was ready to get back in and he’s provided a spark for us,” the coach said of Fehr. “He’s played good.”
In Fehr’s return to the lineup last Saturday against the Leafs, he created numerous chances as part of the second line. With 50 shots, the whole team did. Curiously, he skated on his off wing, something Oates detests. While Fehr conceded that hampers him in the defensive zone, he wasn’t concerned about it impacting him offensively. And why would he be? When the Caps returned to Verizon Center on Wednesday, Fehr scored his first goal since October 10 — and he did it with Steve Oleksy’s stick. Friday, he scored again while making a sublime assist on Mikhail Grabovski’s game-tying goal.
“He’s a great player,” Grabovski said after the game. “It’s very easy for me to play with this partner.”
In the shootout, Fehr helped win it for the Caps with a first round tally.
In Washington’s 3-2 victory over Montreal, Fehr had a hand in all the scoring. Fehr, however, insists nothing has changed since before he was scratched.
“I like to think I’m playing a very similar game,” he said. “I’m not gonna be the fanciest guy on the ice, I’m just gonna try to force the other team to make plays.”
“I’m just trying to help any way I can,” Fehr added. “Whether it’s scoring or playing good D or penalty kill, I’m just trying to do whatever they ask.”
When Fehr says his recent success is nothing new, he’s right. He has three points in his last two games — exactly what happened before his three week benching. Perhaps Oates has learned his lesson this time.