By Chris Gordon
Photo Credit: Patrick McDermott
Last year, Eric Fehr bounced around the lineup as Adam Oates struggled to find a spot for him. Some nights, Fehr would play center, not his natural position, on the third line. Other nights he would find himself in the press box, despite being one of the team’s top possession players. What he never got a chance to do was be a scoring-line winger, which the Capitals drafted him to be and a spot in which he’s shown promise in the past. Under Bruce Boudreau, Fehr also struggled to fit in, eventually forcing the Caps to ship him to Winnipeg for a fourth rounder and an irrelevant minor leaguer. With Barry Trotz, it looked like things might change, with Fehr starting the season on the top line.
“I just want to have a spot and consistently play, just not be moving around every night,” Fehr said in September.
A month into the 2013-14 season, however, we’ve reverted back to old ways. Fehr’s tryout on the first line was brief and he soon shifted back to center. On Friday, Trotz scratched Fehr for the second time this season, the same game during which Jay Beagle skated on the first line. When scratching Fehr, Trotz talks in platitudes about players needing a “nudge.”
GIF by @myregularface
On Saturday, Fehr was reunited with Jason Chimera and Joel Ward after Brooks Laich was once again out with an injury. In the second period, Fehr had a brilliant goal, flying into the offensive zone before deking out Anton Khudobin like Winker, Manitoba was located in a Scandinavian welfare state. Fehr also led the team, along with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, in shots on a goal, with another attempt blocked. He drew a penalty that led to a goal as well.
“I’ve had a lot of shots in games,” Fehr told me. “They haven’t always gone in. At the end of the day, I don’t look at ‘I scored a goal, I had a good game.’ You gotta look at the whole game.”
Nevertheless, Fehr made a costly turnover that led to Carolina’s second goal, precipitating the team’s implosion. Fehr was benched during overtime, though Trotz insisted that wasn’t the cause.
“In the third you don’t want to get your pocket picked,” Trotz admitted, though he shifted some of the blame to Justin Peters, who allowed a weak goal. “When you make a mistake that’s when the good goalies gotta bail you out. If the goalie’s having a rough night, that’s when we gotta bail him out with a few more goals too.”
“In OT there’s a little more ice,” he added of the benching, though Joel Ward, who did play, isn’t exactly a free-skating stick wizard. “It wasn’t to do with [the turnover]. Mostly I thought the Eric Fehr, Joel Ward, and Chimera line was pretty good. It was a solid line. … Fehrsie I thought was pretty solid most of the game.”
In the Trotz, Oates and Boudreau eras, everyone always asks Fehr if he learned his lesson when he comes back to the lineup with a strong game. He always deflects, mostly because he was playing just fine to begin with.
Eric Fehr isn’t perfect, but the Caps losing streak had little to do with him. He’s shown he can succeed when given a consistent spot in the lineup, especially when he’s playing a position that isn’t new to him. A series of coaches have often denied him that opportunity.
“I feel like I played very similar to the way I was before,” Fehr said of his return to the lineup. “I’m trying to find a home wherever it may be.”
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