Capitals Coach Adam Oates was looking for new ways to spark his team and create new opportunities for a few players, so heading into Washington’s game Saturday night against the Panthers he assembled a line with players that had never worked together as a unit.
Mathieu Perreault, back in the lineup after being a healthy scratch for five games, would center two right-handed shots in Eric Fehr, who played on the left side, and Joel Ward. The combination clicked and was arguably the strongest forward unit for the Capitals in their 5-0 win.
“You look at the line with Fehr and Matty P, they haven’t played a lot lately, and they were absolutely outstanding, the energy they created,” goaltender Braden Holtby said. “We were in their end the whole time they were on the ice, so when you see that, you see guys play with that passion, it’s contagious.”
Ward and Perreault each recorded a goal at even strength and each time they were on the ice, the group dominated puck possession and created a strong cycle to keep wearing down the Panthers.
“They had a great game. Just looking for some sort of chemistry and trying to find some offense through the lineup. I’m still learning a lot of the players,” Oates said. “And, really, I thought Eric has played well and I wanted to try and get him some more minutes. And Mathieu came in and, you know what, their line had a very good game.”
Several players noted how Perreault was champing at the bit to get back in the lineup and make a difference and he did just that, recording his first goal of the season and setting up another in a season-high 12 minutes 40 seconds of ice time. Ward continued his steady offensive production with two points and now has eight on the season – as many as Alex Ovechkin.
And Fehr, playing somewhere other than the fourth line for the first time this season, did a lot of solid, grinding work along the boards to fuel the line’s lopsided puck possession. It was Fehr’s play, battling along the boards against multiple Panthers, that led directly to Ward’s goal in the second period that gave Washington its first three-goal lead this season.
“Three guys that work hard, get on their ‘D,’ cycle the puck,” Perreault said. “Wardo and Fehrsie are big bodies and I was able to kind of find them a couple times in the slot there [Saturday night] so hopefully we get more of that.”
While every line had a strong night against the Panthers, it was the Fehr, Perreault and Ward unit that players singled out unprompted for praise. When a third line can spend most of its playing time in the offensive zone, it is a harbinger of good things for the rest of the forward groups.
“Matty P and Ward and Fehrsie had an unbelievable night tonight. Matty was itching to get back in the lineup and he made the best of it,” Troy Brouwer said. “Those guys worked unbelievably hard, they’re the guys that kept those shifts going and started them in a lot of senses. Getting lots of chances and getting it so those later lines can get out there and sustain pressure makes it easier for those top two lines and it takes pressure off those top two lines as well.”