Adam Oates Looks for Scoring Balance With New Top-Six

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Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

This season, Alex Ovechkin’s shot has been an unstoppable force of destruction. Ovi has registered 31 goals. His line’s scoring, however, has often been one-sided. Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin’s linemates for much of the season, have scored just six even-strength goals. When Ovi’s hitting the net, it’s not a problem. But if last year’s MVP hits some bad luck, as he did over the four games before last night, the line struggles. Ovechkin has just a single assist during five-on-five play.

“It’s not enough,” Oates said when I asked him about that stat. “It shows how much all three guys are important.”

For Thursday’s game against the Hurricanes, Oates switched up his lines, putting Ovechkin with Eric Fehr and Mikhail Grabovski while placing Johansson and Backstrom with Brouwer.

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Photo credit: Geoff Burke

Eric Fehr is awesome. We know this and he probably does too. Capitals head coach Adam Oates, however, took some time to come around. After trying Fehr out at center, among many other spots in the lineup, Oates benched Fehr for much of November. Since his return to the lineup November 23rd against Toronto, Fehr has nine points and five goals. He’s settled into a steady spot in the top six alongside Mikhail Grabovski and Troy Brouwer.

“We don’t necessarily have one specific position,” Fehr told me of his linemates. “I think we move around well. We read off each other pretty well.”

Tonight, Fehr scored two more — sort of. It looked like he tallied a goal midway through the second period with the Caps on the power play. Fehr received a pass in the slot from Nicklas Backstrom — also red hot lately — before firing the puck on Rangers goalie Cam Talbot. The puck got by the rookie netminder initially and the refs ruled the play a goal. However, video review showed the puck never crossed the line.

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Washington Capitals forward Eric Fehr absorbed a scary hit a little more than halfway through a sleepy Caps-Panthers game. Florida’s Erik Gudbranson put a flying elbow into Eric Fehr’s head, sending Fehr reeling, then into the locker room.

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Take Troy Brouwer to #TheBank

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Photo: @tbrouwer20

The struggles of Troy Brouwer have been a long-running subplot in our weekly stat snapshot series. With just two goals and one assist at 5-on-5, Brouwer’s production has been way below what had been expected for him, and his underlying stats have been among the lowest on the team. Indeed, the numbers have been quite unkind to Troy, and at times they have even endangered our friendship with the Brouwer Rangers.

But I think it’s all about to turn around.

As I discussed in Sunday’s snapshot, and as Y.B.J.P. mentioned on Thursday, Troy’s imminent rebound is thanks to his recent divorce from Brooks Laich.

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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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Eric Fehr Scores Goal Using Steve Oleksy’s Stick

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Al Koken shows off Fehr’s sticks during the Wednesday’s CSN broadcast.

Eric Fehr has bounced around the lineup a lot this season, all the way from the first line to the press box. Another thing undergoing constant shuffling: his stick.

“I’m still looking around, still looking for the one that’s gonna work for me,” he told me Wednesday. “I’ve been working on a few things.”

What’s curious, though, is the specific stick Fehr settled on: when he scored his first goal since October 10 on Wednesday, the 28-year-old was using Steve Oleksy‘s stick. A power forward and a stay-at-home defenseman don’t have much in common, of course, but Fehr liked Oleksy’ stick after a cursory test of his teammates’ weapons.

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Festival of (Red) Lights: Sens Edge Caps 6-4

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Photo credit: Patrick McDermott

Blame Rachel Cohen for this.

Blame Rachel Cohen for this.

[Note: This recap is Chanukah-themed tonight. Why? Because there’s literally no one on the Internet right now.]

Last week, there was only one way to describe the play of the Washington Capitals: shameful. After winning three straight, the Capitals allowed seven unanswered goals at Verizon Center, before showing some life late against Montreal. Saturday’s game, though, was markedly different. The Capitals still lost, but they put 50 shots on goal, Washington’s highest total since 2010. On the first night of Chanukah, the Caps looked to continue that output against the lowly Ottawa Senators. They did — at first.

It started with a sublime play by yelling person-cum-Jewish pun Michael Latta, who skated into the offensive zone, got tripped, and then pole vaulted over a Sens defender. The loose puck went to Eric Fehr, who unleashed a lovely wrist shot to put the Caps on the board. Ottawa tied it up less than a minute and a half  later, however, when Bobby Ryan tipped one past Braden Holtby on the man-advantage. However, Marcus Johansson whacked in a loose puck in front on the power play just 38 seconds after the Sens tally, giving the Caps a 2-1 lead. BUT WAIT! A mere 47 seconds later, Brooks Laich backhanded home a loose puck in front. Four goals in under five minutes. Whew!

The second period was all Sens. Chris Philips put them within one with a blast on the power play, before Colin Greening tied the game at three.

In the final frame Mika Zibanejad added another PP tally. Ugh. The game looked hopeless until John Carlson tied it late. Prepare to cry, though, because just over a minute later Zach Smith beat Mike Green and Nate Schmidt to win the ballgame. Ryan added an empty netter. Sad face. Vodka. Sens edge Caps 6-4

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After losing two in a row in kind of stunning fashion, Adam Oates has changed up his lines for Saturday’s big game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Martin Erat is expected to be a healthy scratch, and Eric Fehr will make his first appearance since November 2nd.

Those lines, based on reports from Mike Vogel and the assumption that the 4th line will be unchanged:

Johansson – Backstrom – Ovechkin
Fehr – Grabovski – Brouwer
Chimera – Laich – Ward
Volpatti – Latta – Wilson

Martin Erat is the third-strongest forward when measured by both possession and on-ice goal percentage. This will be his first healthy scratch of the season. For the record, Troy Brouwer is the team’s weakest forward in possession– kind of stunning for a second-line player– but his goal percentage is even (7 goals for, 7 goals against) thanks to the team-high save percentage his goalies offer when he’s on the ice: .956.

The incredibly productive third line of Chimera-Grabo-Ward has been broken up, promoting Grabo to 2C in time for a game against the team that bought him out over the summer. Brooks Laich takes his place at 3c.

Returning Eric Fehr to the lineup is a welcome change, but at the cost of Martin Erat is …odd.

Your thoughts?

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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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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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