EricFehrGoal

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.”

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Oates does his best grumpy cat impression.

Wednesday night, the Washington Capitals were awful. Though they started the game well, the contest took a biblical turn for the worst as the Ottawa Senators outshot the Caps 19-3. Yeah, 19-3. Meanwhile the team also took six penalties — most of them bad — and allowed three man-advantage goals. After Saturday’s game in Toronto, Adam Oates was encouraged with his team’s performance. After tonight’s, he was livid.

“We played a solid game in Toronto,” he told reporters after the game. “We played lousy tonight. Lousy. Not good decisions. We get a lead and we still don’t do the right things.”

Oates didn’t like any aspects of the team’s performance. Though they got out to an early lead, Oates said he didn’t think his team played well at any point against the Sens. There was poor goaltending, stupid penalties, and bad passes. Nothing went right for the Caps after the first 20 minutes.

“We’re not gonna win games playing this way — we’re not,” said Oates. “We just proved it.”

Oates’s mood was not helped by a nonsensical question about puck possession towards the end. Well, at least that’s what I think it was about. He told the reporter not to try to ask that again. Oh my!

“If guys don’t know we let one get away, shame on them,” he concluded. “Shame on them. I’m gonna tell ‘em.”

Below, take a look at video of the evening tongue lashing.

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SadMcPhee

Since coming to the Washington Capitals in April, Martin Erat has twice requested a trade: once early this season and again last week. During the same timeframe, Erat scored just one goal. You might expect Caps general manager George McPhee to be disappointed. He gave up an elite prospect in the hopes Erat would fill a vital top-six role. Instead, he ended with a fourth liner-cum-healthy scratch who wants the hell out of Arlington.

McPhee, however, has a different view.

“Things change,” he told reporters at Kettler Capitals Iceplex on Tuesday. “No regrets. We did what we had to do then, and we’ll do what we have to do now.”

The GM explained that then when he made the move for Erat in the spring, the injury status of Brooks Laich was uncertain. He didn’t even know whether the forward would be back for the 2013-14 season. The Erat trade, then, wasn’t meant to shore up a long-term hole, but to make a push for the 2013 Stanley Cup.

“You want to give your team the best opportunity possible and we will always do that,” McPhee said of winning the Cup. “You can’t have the guys work their guts out all year and then not help them out at the deadline if there’s something to help them with. So we made that deal.”

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Alex Ovechkin Scores Two Goals, Is On Pace For 70+ Goals

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The Ovechscream. (Photo credit: Alex Brandon)

It’s been written to death already, but Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin is having an unbelievable start to the season. Friday night against the Montreal Canadiens (and with Wayne Gretzky in attendance), it continued, as The Great Eight scored two goals, both of the dirtty variety.

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The New Old Capitals Lines

Ovi shoots - Dave Reginek

Photo: Dave Reginek

Friday night’s win over Detroit Red Wings was made possible by a late-game Alex Ovechkin goal assisted by Marcus Johansson. Johansson hadn’t been on the top line since November 1st in Philadelphia, when Alex Ovechkin missed games due to an upper-body injury. When Ovechkin returned on the 5th, Martin Erat had taken Mojo’s spot on the top line, and Marcus centered Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer on the second. That formulation yielded good possession for the top line, but garbage for the second and goals for pretty much no one (I recommend Kevin Klein’s article on this topic over at Japers’ Rink).

Coach Adam Oates tweaked his lines late in the game on Friday to much success, and it looks like those changes will stick. Per The Washington Post’s Katie Carrera, here’s how lines look on Saturday morning:

Marcus Johansson – Nick Backstrom – Alex Ovechkin
Martin Erat – Brooks Laich – Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera – Mikhail Grabovski – Joel Ward
Aaron Volpatti – Michael Latta – Tom Wilson

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Joel Ward Scores Lucky Goal, Doesn’t Believe in Luck

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“Woooo!” (Photo credit: Alex Brandon)

Joel Ward has had a couple of hot streaks in his career. In fact, he’s making $3 million a year partially because of one (13 points in 12 games) during the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Nashville Predators. Despite his playoff success, Ward’s recent regular season results have been unimpressive. In his first year with the Caps, we scored just six goals in 73 games. Last year, in a lockout shortened season, he had eight. Eighteen games into the 2013-14 campaign, he’s matched that total.

“When he came here obviously he had a great playoff for Nashville,” head coach Adam Oates said after the game. “When we’ve talked, him and I, I expect him to play now like he does in the playoffs, every night. Now, that’s a playoff game. We need these points.”

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Just a quick item for your lunchtime perusal.

As Uncle Ted himself pointed out earlier, despite the Capitals in the top 5 in the league in goals for, they are currently are 20th in the league in goals against with 52.

That goals-against count comes despite strong numbers from the goalies. Braden Holtby is sporting a fantastic .922 save percentage, Michal Neuvirth a decent .913.

As that suggests, the Capitals are allowing lots of shots on goal. They are 25th in the league in allowing shots on goal during 5-on-5 in close-game situations.

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Trying to Stop the Capitals Power Play

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Ovi and his teammates celebrate a power play goal on Saturday. (Photo credit: Norm Hall)

The Washington Capitals have the league’s most dominant power play. Of the team’s 52 goals, 20 have come from the man advantage, a remarkable 38 percent. Alex Ovechkin, too, relies heavily on the PP. He has 13 goals this year, seven have been a man up. More than anything else, Adam Oates’s power play has rekindled Ovi’s greatness.

All this success means one thing: if you stop the Washington’s power play, you stop the Capitals.

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Photo credit: Dave Sandford/Getty Images

The Washington Capitals have a very busy week: four games in six days. As Alex Ovechkin returns to the line-up, Capitals head coach Adam Oates decided to shake-up his lines. The changes are drastic.

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EricFehr

Who's this guy? (Photo credit: Greg Fiume)

Who’s this guy? (Photo credit: Greg Fiume)

Fehrsie looking resplendent at right wing. (Photo credit: Greg Fiume)

Martin Erat and Eric Fehr have both spent significant time this season stuck on the fourth line, a misuse of their considerable talent. But with Alex Ovechkin missing his second game due to an upper-body injury, both wingers now find themselves on Washington’s top trio, skating 20 minutes a night. In 120 minutes of play, the new first line of Erat, Nicklas Backstrom, and Fehr has been fantastic, registering three goals and nine points. For Nick, three of his five goals this year have come in the last two days.

So what’s the key to Nick’s newfound goal scoring ability, and the line’s success as a whole? Well, Ovechkin has generated the vast majority of the first line’s shots this season. Though they are improving, Johansson and Backstrom had the maddening tendency to pass, pass, pass early in the year. Without Ovi, has Backstrom been forced shoot the puck more, always an important factor in scoring goals? In short, no. When I asked him about it, Backstrom insisted that he wasn’t directing any more pucks toward the net than usual. A little late-night research backs him up. Nick has attempted three shots in each of the two games without Ovechkin, roughly in line with his normal pace. So, some nice shots and a bit of luck.

“Yeah, that’s just a coincidence,” Backstrom said with some sass.

Nevertheless, the temporary first line has been impressive. Erat and Fehr deserve credit for holding their own in a new and challenging position, each playing on their third different line this year. Fehr, especially, made a large jump, playing two total polar opposite roles in one week. Monday in Vancouver, he played 12 minutes as the gritty fourth line center. Saturday, he played almost twenty minutes as the first line right wing.

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