A week ago, Coach Adam Oates set to finding new ways to get Eric Fehr ice time. Fehr had spent the first eight games of the season on the fourth line, playing fewer than 10 minutes in all but one game. He would occasionally show some offensive flash, but he wasn’t on the ice frequently enough to do much with it.
So ahead of the Capitals’ game against Florida on Feb. 9, Oates put Fehr on the third line with Mathieu Perreault and Joel Ward. The group found quick success, and in the past two games it’s been Fehr on the finishing end, bringing some much needed secondary scoring for the Capitals.
“We haven’t exactly had our primary scoring as hot as it wants to be right now,” Troy Brouwer said. “Fehrsie’s been able to score goals in this league before [but] he’s had a little bit of a tough ride in the last few years, and it’s good to see him being able to bounce back and playing really good hockey right now.”
Fehr, 27, recorded two goals in Washington’s 4-3 win over the Lightning Thursday, marking his first multi-goal game since March 9, 2011, just two days after posting his first goal of the season in Tuesday’s 6-5 overtime win at Florida. The two-game road trip also represented his first set of goals in consecutive games since October 2011.
Both of those previous dates came during Fehr’s first stint with the Capitals, and now that he’s found his scoring touch during round two, he’s eager to keep it up.
“I definitely want to help contribute. I wasn’t happy with the way my season went at all last year and really wanted to turn it around,” Fehr said. “I’m feeling pretty confident right now, and I’m happy with the way we’ve started the season.”
Fehr’s career has been marred by frequent shoulder injuries that have required three different surgeries, twice on his right and once on his left. When the Capitals traded Fehr to the Winnipeg Jets in a salary-shedding move in July 2011, he was recovering from his most recent procedure and wasn’t able to start the season on time.
He never really found his footing with his hometown team, recording just three points in 35 games for the Jets last season while seeing mostly fourth-line minutes. When he became a restricted free agent, Winnipeg didn’t even submit a qualifying offer.
As he posted 13 goals and 25 points in 21 games during the lockout for HPK Hameenlinna in Finland’s SM-Liiga, Capitals scouts spotted the improved and healthy Fehr, prompting McPhee to bring the winger back into the fold. The biggest difference in his play this season, Fehr said, is simple.
“I’m healthier now than I have been in the past,” Fehr said. “I had a good summer of rehab, and my trip over to Finland, I think, helped me regain a little bit of confidence, and I learned how to play with the puck a bit more and make plays instead of just dumping it in and cycling.”
Against Florida, Fehr was in the right place for perfectly-timed redirection of a shot-pass by Mike Green from the blue line to score his first goal of the season.
For his first tally at Tampa Bay, Fehr drove to the net as Ward chased down the puck and then threw it out in front. When the puck went off Perreault, Fehr was able to roof it into the net and send the water bottle flying for a 2-1 lead. His second came on a slap shot from above the right circle, a booming shot that Lightning goaltender Mathieu Garon had no chance of stopping.
“That’s a freakin’ rocket,” Jay Beagle said of Fehr’s second goal. “You know Fehrsie, he’s a sniper. It’s awesome to see the way he’s playing. He’s been a huge help to the team and it’s been a big part of our wins.”
Oates is pleased with what he’s seeing from the Winkler, Manitoba, native.
“He looks like he’s got really good jump. It’s very noticeable out there; he’s got a good stick,” Oates said. “He’s played better and better every game and obviously he got rewarded tonight, the whole line. That line’s been a good line for us the last couple weeks. I’m glad they’re getting rewarded.”
Fehr knows that his individual success is in part a reflection of how well the third line works together. For Fehr, it’s also always been easy to play with Perreault, going back to when the two were on the AHL’s Hershey Bears together.
“He’s the type of player I’ve always played well [with]: a pass-first, left-handed centerman,” Fehr said of Perreault. “He’s really shifty, so I love playing with him. He does a great job finding me.”
Even though he has more points (5) in 11 games than he had with Winnipeg in 35 contests last season, Fehr isn’t about to get carried away. His main goal is to keep contributing and perhaps show that he can still be a reliable NHL goal scorer.
“It’s only been two games. I’m not going say it’s consistent right now,” Fehr said. “But hopefully it’s a sign of things to come.”