Last year, Eric Fehr bounced around the lineup as Adam Oates struggled to find a spot for him. Some nights, Fehr would play center, not his natural position, on the third line. Other nights he would find himself in the press box, despite being one of the team’s top possession players. What he never got a chance to do was be a scoring-line winger, which the Capitals drafted him to be and a spot in which he’s shown promise in the past. Under Bruce Boudreau, Fehr also struggled to fit in, eventually forcing the Caps to ship him to Winnipeg for a fourth rounder and an irrelevant minor leaguer. With Barry Trotz, it looked like things might change, with Fehr starting the season on the top line.
“I just want to have a spot and consistently play, just not be moving around every night,” Fehr said in September.
Alexander Semin is having a rough time in Carolina. He has no goals this season and has been a healthy scratch. Saturday, though, Sasha Minor spirits perked up. Playing against his former team, Semin had seven shots attempts in a 3-2 loss. After the game, he caught up with his old Russian palsAlex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov. Ovi, in fact, eluded reporters postgame just so he wouldn’t miss his old friend.
For the last few games, Washington’s offense has been lacking. Alex Ovechkin has struggled to score — going five games without a goal — while the rest of the lines have struggled to click as Barry Trotz’s looks for line combinations that will gel. On Wednesday, they got the offense. Washington clearly outclassed the Red Wings but made a few inexplicable mistakes. They hurt.
“They’re not playing overly poor,” Trotz said after the game. “You’ve just got to put your nose to the grindstone and plow through it.”
“Every turnover we did have ended up in the back of the net a little bit,” he added.
On October 29, 2014, In Game Recap, By Chris Gordon
Photo credit: Patrick McDermott
I was pessimistic about the Caps entering the season. Early on, however, they proved me wrong. The team went until late October without a loss in regulation, picking of a bunch of standings points. They were strong on both sides of the puck and all the storylines were positive. It was like everyone was Ian: innocent, happy, naïvely carefree.
A trip out west changed that. The Caps lost two of the three played past your bedtime and we came down to earth. Looking to change things, Barry Trotz decided to go with another forceful lineup that he divined using either his brilliant hockey mind or a hat. Perhaps he knows half of you didn’t watch this game either.
The scoring got stared in the first when Braden Holtbytook a twirl and a tumble in the crease. The referees, perhaps unaware the Caps play their home game on melted Slurpee, called the goal back, alleging goalie inference on Luke Glendening. Other than a few reorganized faced, the first was otherwise uneventful, though the Wings registered Pantherian three shots on goal.
In the second, things got more interesting. About nine minutes into the period, Marcus Johansson continued his goal scoring streak by putting the Wings up for real this time. Jojo turned the puck over inside the blueline before Gustav Nyquist stretched Holtby’s groin past its breaking point. Bray Bray, though, got even a little over five minutes later with a delicious bank pass to Joel Ward, who fed the puck to a streaking Evgeny Kuznetsov to tie it up on the power play. With 58 ticks remaining in the period, first-liner Andre Burakovsky used his fancy euroness to blow past the Detroit D before John Carlson used the First Amendment to set Troy Brouwer up for the one timer.
Alas, things got rather dumb in the third period. Brooks Orpik and Burakovsky combined for an awful turnover, allowing Justin Abdelkader to tie it. It was basically the FBI building of brutalism.
The party didn’t stop there. John Carlson joined in on the “hey free pucks!” train and Abdelkader twisted the knife. Another for good measure. Wings beat Caps 4-2.
Last season, Adam Oates tried to reinvent Eric Fehr. Instead of being an auxiliary winger, Oates turned Fehr into a checking line center. Actual hockey isn’t NHL 15, so the role was uneasy for Fehr. Center is a greater responsibility than being a scoring winger, offensively and defensively. Pivots are, perhaps, a little smarter than the rest of us. Fehr never quite settled into the position and bounced around the lineup and the press box under Oates. He did, however, find success with Joel Ward and Jason Chimera, inspiring a cult following for the line.
This season, it looked like Barry Trotz put an end to the Eric Fehr 3C experiment, placing the Manitoban on the top trio with Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. After Tuesday’s histrionic 6-5 loss to San Jose, Trotz’s shifted his lineup. Fehr was back with Ward and Chimera. On Thursday, the line was Washington’s best. While they only registered one of Washington’s five goals — and it was barely even a goal — the trio shut down the opposition and earned praise from Trotz. Against the Panthers, the third line was again inspired. Chimera had a myriad of chances while scoring Washington’s lone goal of the night. It was set up by a brilliant pass from the corner from Fehr.
“With that line, I think that Fehrsie’s got really good hockey IQ,” Trotz said. “He can read off those two guys.”
“That whole line’s been really good the last couple games,” he added.
Two summers ago, Andre Burakovsky came to Capitals Development Camp as a skinny but skilled winger a few years away from the NHL. He made friends with Tom Wilson, about 11 months his senior, and the Canadian introduced him to life in North American and the “cinnamon rollers” that come with it.
Wilson made the Caps roster as a 19-year-old three months later, playing in every one of the team’s 82 games but barely getting on the ice. He registered 15 times more penalty minutes than points. Connor Carrick, another 19-year-old, also made the team out of camp. Though Carrick impressed early with manifest skill, he struggled as the season went on. Thanks to the Caps barren defense, Carrick was playing minutes he wasn’t ready for. Like Wilson, Carrick was ill-served by his rookie experience.
On October 6, 2014, In Injury, News, By Chris Gordon
Wilson speaking to reporters last month. (Photo credit: Amanda Bowen)
After Sunday’s final preseason game, Barry Trotz said the team’s lineup was all but set. No matter what, it will be temporary. While Mike Green and Michael Latta seem likely play Thursday, Jay Beagle and Aaron Volpatti will have to wait longer to come back from injury. Adding to the myriad wounded Capitals, Dmitry Orlov and Tom Wilson may not be back for a while after breaking various things during the summer.
With the final preseason game in the books for the Capitals, the team’s opening night line-up is shaping up: Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Eric Fehr will be on the top line. Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky, and Troy Brouwer will man the second. Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich, and Joel Ward will be on the third. The fourth line looks set, though scrappy free-agree invitee Liam O’Brien looks to have earned his way into a contract with Hershey or a two-way deal. Michael Latta, though, appears ready to play alongside Evgeny Kuznetsov and Chris Brown on the fourth line. That might change when Jay Beagle comes back from injury.
“That would be a question for Mac[Lellan],” Trotz said of O’Brien. “He’s been as good as anybody especially in that role.”
“He’s a player that demanded to be noticed,” the coach added.
Plan holders have been offered assigned seats, which they can take or leave. They are not able to pick their own location as has been done in previous Winter Classics. Prices range from $79 to $349 per ticket, plus $19 in fees ($9 for a service and administrative fee and $10 shipping and handling).