No player enjoys sitting out as a healthy scratch. But for Eric Fehr, the toughest part of the nine game, 18-day stretch of November he spent watching from the sidelines was that he had been playing well.
“It’s extremely frustrating because there wasn’t the game where, ‘Oh you didn’t play well, we’re going to have to sit you down for a bit.’ I felt like I was kind of blindsided,” Fehr said. “That was definitely tough to take the first couple days and the first week. Once that settles, you just realize it’s a short part of the season, you’ve got to stay with it and you can’t let it drag you down.”
Fehr, 28, has had his share of experience watching from the press box over the course of his career, both as a healthy scratch and with shoulder injuries. It’s taught him that whenever he did get the chance to get back in the lineup, he needed to focus on playing as well as possible and let that make his case to stay.
He returned on Nov. 23 at Toronto, playing on the second line as left wing with Mikhail Grabovski and Troy Brouwer,. In four games he has recorded two goals, three points and 13 shots on goal.
“I feel I’m playing the same way I was before I got pulled out of the lineup,” Fehr said. “It’s a little bit more noticeable because I’m almost doubling up my minutes right now, but I honestly think I’m playing the same way.”
In just 18 games this season, Fehr’s played on all four lines and all three forward positions as Coach Adam Oates continues to tinker with the combinations. He spent the preseason and the first 12 games of the season playing center for the first time in his career, then when Alex Ovechkin was out with a shoulder injury he suited up at his natural spot on right wing before lining up on his off-side in this latest stint.
Oates has asked Fehr to be flexible with position changes and picking up new skills, dating back to last season. While Fehr remains most comfortable on the wing, he sees the benefits of being able to play all over the ice. With Brooks Laich sidelined by a groin injury, he’s rotated in as a regular part of the penalty kill once again.
“I definitely feel like I’m adding some elements,” Fehr said. “I didn’t know exactly what to expect when I was playing center this year, but now that I’ve played there a little bit more I have a lot more confidence at both ends of the ice. I think that’s important. I’m playing with some of the most confidence I’ve had in my career, so I think that’s got to be a plus, and whether I’m on the penalty kill, power play, I just like to be involved. It feels good to be a part of the team in all those different aspects.”
The time at center also helped Fehr better understand how he can work with his linemates when he’s skating as a winger. He’s had instantaneous chemistry with Grabovski, they complement each other well with one a pure playmaker and the other seemingly always in position to shoot, and can better read when to help out the center in various situations.
“It’s helped me to realize when he’s tired down low, when it’s been a long shift and I’m sitting up at the point and I look down and I see how tired he is. I know how that feels,” Fehr said. “You try to get in there, get him a switch and try to help out. I think that’s an important part just not to leave your centerman hanging [when they] have those long shifts.
“I really enjoy my games with [Grabovski] so far. He’s so strong on the puck, he’s an easy player to read as far as that goes,” Fehr added. “It’s helped me out as a guy switching lines and positions all the time to have a guy that easy to play with.”
>> Brooks Laich did not skate Tuesday morning and will miss a third consecutive game with a groin injury. There remains no timeline for his return.
>> John Erskine (knee) didn’t skate on Tuesday morning, either, though he’s thought to be making strides in his recovery. Michal Neuvirth, who injured his right leg when he stepped on a puck last week, went out on the ice for a workout with goaltending coach Olie Kolzig late as the morning skate wrapped up.
>> Braden Holtby will make a fifth consecutive start as the Capitals look to extend their winning streak to three games. Holtby is 4-2 with a .951 save percentage and 1.84 goals-against average against the Hurricanes in his career.
>> Former Capital Alexander Semin will be out of the Hurricanes lineup for an eighth consecutive game tonight after suffering a concussion on Nov. 16 against the St. Louis Blues when he was checked by Alex Pietrangelo.
Here are the projected lineups for both teams
Jeff Skinner-Eric Staal-Tuomo Ruutu
Jiri Tlusty-Jordan Staal-Patrick Dwyer
Nathan Gerbe-Elias Lindholm-Riley Nash
Drayson Bowman-Manny Malhotra-Radek Dvorak
Andrej Sekera-Justin Faulk
Jay Harrison-Ryan Murphy
Ron Hainsey-Brett Bellmore
Cam Ward Justin Peters is expected to start.