Technically Eric Fehr has always been the second option on the depth chart for the one-timer spot from the left circle on the Capitals’ power play. But when the person in front of him in the pecking order is Alex Ovechkin, who often plays the full length of any man advantage, there isn’t much regular ice time available.
With Ovechkin sidelined at least through Friday’s game at the Philadelphia Flyers, though, the Capitals will rely on Fehr to fill in that spot on the top power-play unit and as the right wing playing alongside Nicklas Backstrom on the top line. They aren’t easy skates to fill and arguably no one in the league has the type of wicked one-timer release on the power play that Ovechkin does, but Fehr is ready for the responsibility.
“I don’t think they’ll be covering me quite as closely as they cover Ovi,” Fehr said. “Ovi does his thing out there and I haven’t had the opportunity. He makes it look pretty easy. He’s been doing that for many years. I’m not going to be shooting it like him, I’ll have my own spin on that position and hopefully it works out.”
Coach Adam Oates took some extra time in Thursday’s practice to help Fehr get a little more familiar with the way the power play works the puck around to that location on the ice. From the angle he’s receiving the puck to the speed of a pass and how much time Fehr will have, Oates wanted to give the winger as many repetitions through that play as he could.
While Ovechkin’s shot demands a certain amount of respect from opposing penalty kills, Oates believes that the power play should be able to create the same type of quality opportunities regardless who is in the lineup at any particular moment. The power play is now ranked fifth (24.4 percent) in the league after going 1-for-15 in the past four games after starting off the year as the top unit in the league.
“To me the philosophy of the power play should be that anybody’s interchangeable,” Oates said. “Guys have strengths and weaknesses but the system still runs itself, we still expect guys to make reads. Fehrsie’s got a good shot there as well. If we put Carly there he’s got a great shot as well. I expect them to make the reads.”
Still, if there’s anyone whose absence will most certainly impact the power play, it’s Ovechkin. He has four of the team’s 11 goals on the man advantage, has fired 22 of the team’s 62 total shots on goal (35.5 percent) and taken 44 of 113 shots they’ve attempted (38.9 percent) while on the power play.
Teams often try to cheat to Ovechkin’s side in what is often vain hope that it will disrupt or prevent him from unleashing that dangerous shot. That defensive commitment from a penalty kill can open up more space inside for plays down low or create more lanes for Mike Green at the point. In Ovechkin’s absence opposing penalty kills may focus on taking away Backstrom’s options of the half wall or Green’s. But it could also create space for the power play in unexpected ways.
“Obviously he’s a big key, he takes a lot of shots for us,” Backstrom said. “It’s a good opportunity for Fehrsie. He has a great shot as well, and hopefully that will make [penalty kills] a little confused maybe, since Ovi’s not there.”