By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 29, 2009
MONTREAL -- Six years after being drafted in the first round, and two years after a mysterious back ailment almost ended his career, Washington Capitals winger Eric Fehr finally is making his impact felt.
Fehr scored his second goal of the game with 11.4 seconds remaining in regulation Saturday night, then Nicklas Backstrom netted the only tally in penalty shots to lift the Capitals to a 4-3 victory at Bell Centre.
Fehr's goals were his fourth and fifth in the past nine games for Washington, which has gained points in four straight games (2-0-2).
"When Eric is going to the net with reckless abandon, then he's really good," Coach Bruce Boudreau said of the 24-year-old. "On both goals he goes to the net and gets the tip and gets the rebound. When he plays on the perimeter and just hopes his shots go in, he's not as effective. I thought tonight he had a good game that's why he played in the overtime."
Then Boudreau deadpanned, "But I wasn't going to use him in the shootout, though."
Fehr's timely goal came on a rebound off a shot by Alex Ovechkin (game-high eight shots) that he tucked between Carey Price's pads and was the Capitals' first since midway through the first period. It also ensured they would earn at least one point on a night when they blew a 2-0 lead and were outplayed for long stretches.
Then Backstrom made sure the Capitals got both points.
After a furious overtime, Capitals goaltender Semyon Varlamov, who improved to 10-1-2 with a 21-save effort, turned back penalty shots by Mike Cammalleri, Maxim Lapierre and Tomas Plekanec. At the other end, Price thwarted Tomas Fleischmann and Ovechkin. But Price couldn't handle Backstrom's precise shot from in tight, which beat him beneath the blocker.
"I have been struggling a little bit," said Backstrom, whose assist on Ovechkin's first-period goal was only his second in eight games. "But I feel my legs are getting better and more fresh. The NHL is not easy."
The third period, which began knotted at 2, saw the Capitals finding penalty trouble. Montreal's Travis Moen made them pay.
First, minor league call-up Alexandre Giroux was called for tripping, then Brooks Laich was banished for holding, giving the Canadiens a five-on-three for more than a minute. The penalty on Giroux was his second of the night and might not have been deserved.
"He got called for two penalties, but the second one was their guy tripping," Boudreau said.
Washington killed off the two-man advantage, but Moen struck before Laich's penalty expired after he redirected Marc-Andre Bergeron's point shot past Varlamov's glove hand to give Montreal its third straight goal and a 3-2 lead with 14 minutes 26 seconds to play.
But the Capitals, who mustered only 11 shots through 40 minutes 20 seconds in regulation, didn't fold. Instead, led by Ovechkin, Fleischmann and Backstrom, they began to buzz around the Canadiens' net in the final moments. Then, after a high-sticking call on Montreal defenseman Paul Mara, Fehr found an opening between Price's pads after the goalie stopped Ovechkin's blast.
"I just took a whack at it because I didn't know how much time was left," said Fehr, who has been playing on the second line with Brendan Morrison and Laich in recent games because of all the injuries.
"I feel a lot better," he added. "Since I started playing with Mo and Brooksy, I've gotten more confidence and they've helped me slow the game down in my head and make better plays."
The fact that Capitals needed a comeback was troubling to Boudreau considering how the night began for the visitors, who took a two-goal lead on consecutive shots by Fehr and Ovechkin in the opening 10 minutes.
"After the 10-minute mark of the first period, I thought we had a few passengers," Boudreau said. "But for the most part, the core guys, played really well. We just started trying to be cute. We would get the puck in the zone and try to make three passes before we shot the puck."
Backstrom added, "We started off pretty good in the first period, then we stopped skating and they outworked us."
After taking the lead, the Capitals, just as they have so many times this season, inexplicably let up and allowed the Canadiens -- and the rowdy capacity crowd -- back into the game with a lackluster effort in the second period.
The period began with Price stoning Ovechkin on a breakaway with his pad.
Then, with injury replacement Jay Beagle in the penalty box for tripping, Montreal defenseman Jaroslav Spacek hammered a shot from the blue line that eluded Varlamov, who did not appear to see the shot until it was too late.
With 6:10 remaining in the second period, the Capitals couldn't get the puck out of their own end and the Canadiens made them pay. Plekanec backhanded a shot from the slot through traffic that banked in off the goal post to send the game into the third period tied at 2.
Had Varlamov not been as sharp, the Canadiens might have put the game away.
"He kept us in the game," Boudreau said. "He made three unbelievable saves when they had a 3-2 lead to keep us in the game. Just look at his record. He's lost only one [in regulation]. And he just keeps getting better."