By Chris Gordon
Glorious human being. (Photo credit: Alex Brandon)
On January 1, 2011, Eric Fehr blasted into the offensive zone, along with the puck. He unleashed bullet of a wrist shot off the slushy Heinz Field ice. It was his second goal of the game, the 2011 Winter Classic, cementing him in Capitals history.
On Saturday, Fehr scored twice against the Pittsburgh Penguins, a redux of sorts of his 2011 outdoor game performance. Well, according to everyone but him.
“Not really,” Fehr said when asked by Alex Prewitt if that game brought back any memories. “Different kind of goals and obviously different building.”
Today, however, his goal was close as you could get to 2011: breakaway, unassisted, outdoors, and happy times at the end. Nevertheless, Fehr stuck to his talking points, giving nearly the same answer he provided the media Saturday.
“Not really,” Fehr said when asked, once again, if it brought back any memories. “It was a little bit different.”
Still, he was happy.
“It always feels good to score goals, I won’t lie to you,” Fehr, who attributed his play to “some good fresh air,” told me. “The ones in the Winter Classic feel extra special.”
Capitals owner Ted Leonsis saw it coming.
“I walked in today and saw Eric and said ‘You’re our x-factor,” Leonsis told me.
About seven minutes into the game, just as Mike Emrick was bringing up his two goal game in Pittsburgh, Fehr chased down a loose puck at the Blackhawks blueline. Darting in on Chicago netminder Corey Crawford, Fehr went forehand, backhand, and top shelf into to the net. A couple seconds later he had his hands in the air, with the Capitals bench and 42,832 people in the stands on the verge of bursting blood vessels.
“It was like a shootout, but the best part, like I tell you all the time, is that I wasn’t thinking,” Fehr said of the goal. “I just kind of look up at the goalie and I’m not thinking anything. The body takes over.”
Karl Alzner, Fehr’s teammate, said that’s par for the course when Fehr faces an important situation.
“It’s very impressive,” Alzner said. “Some people handle the big stage differently: they get nervous, they simplify, they don’t do what they would normally do. Fehrsie seems to handle it the same way he does every game and that’s playing hard and doing the right thing.”
Fehr is largely unknown outside Washington and is often unappreciated by his own coaches. Though he has the ability to be a legitimate top-six scoring winger, Bruce Boudreau would often bury him in the fourth line or the press box. In the summer of 2011, just seven months after his Winter Classic performance, Fehr was dumped from the Caps roster for a fourth round draft pick and a meaningless prospect. In Winnipeg, Fehr continued to struggle to find playing time. After playing one season with the Jets, Fehr was out of a job. Just as training camp was beginning, the Caps picked Fehr up as extra body, signing to a one-year deal with a salary barely over the league minimum.
“He’s had a tough road over the last few years,” Alzner told me. “He’s a player that has a tremendous amount of skill offensively and defensively. For whatever reason, it hasn’t quite panned out the way he expected. He’s stuck with it.”
Since coming back to the Caps, Fehr has bounced around a lot, playing mostly at center, with passible results. But lately, Fehr has been superb, with four goals in four games.
“I feel a lot better when I have the puck,” he said. “I feel like I can make plays and the game is slowing down a little bit. You don’t have to just make the easy plays all the time. I feel more comfortable with trying new things.”
Fehr is an underrated player, who never seems to be able to fit in with his coaches. But at least today, as in 2011, he got to be a star.
“He deserves it,” Alzner said. “You couldn’t be happier for a guy like that.”
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