PITTSBURGH – After his first 20-goal season for the Washington Capitals in 2009-10, this campaign was off to a disappointing start for Eric Fehr.
Maybe being the hero in the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic will be just what he needs. Fehr collected a pair of goals in a 3-1 victory Saturday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins in front of 68,011 at Heinz Field.
"We felt at Chevy Chase [Club] that we were scoring goals left and right, so we thought, 'This would be something if we can carry this over from the outdoor practice,'" said Fehr's linemate, Jason Chimera.
The Capitals practiced outdoors in Chevy Chase, Md., three days before the Winter Classic.
"After the game I said, 'We should play outside all the time,'" Chimera added. "We've been having trouble scoring goals all year – getting some chances but nothing's been going in. Tonight it was a nice night for our line. It was great for [Fehr]. He's been working really hard and he's been snakebitten a bit. It was nice to see him get a couple goals."
Fehr had 21 goals last season in 69 games despite spending most of the season on the team's third line. He was one of the reasons Washington boasted the deepest collection of forwards in the League.
This season the goals haven't come as frequently for Fehr. He has been on the team's third line again, save for a productive game against Ottawa on the top line with Alex Ovechkin, and had just five goals in his first 35 games.
He's also been a healthy scratch twice in December and missed a game because of a death in his family. After 12 contests without a goal, he now has three in the past four and seven this season.
"What can I say? I thought he played a real good game," Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau said. "And he finally got rewarded by doing the things that we know he’s capable of doing. Then he gets two goals – and that's big, obviously."
After Mike Knuble had rallied the Capitals from an 1-0 deficit, Fehr put them ahead at 6:54 of the second period. Pittsburgh goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was unable to play the puck behind the net and rookie center Marcus Johansson sent it to Fehr, who was able to one-time it into the net before Fleury could recover.
Chimera fed Fehr with a pass midway through the third period that allowed him to slip beyond the two Penguins' defensemen. He went in alone on Fleury and snapped a shot into the top right corner for an important insurance tally.
"The first one I think Johansson turned the puck over behind the net and I just went in front and got a good pass," Fehr said. "The second one I saw [Chimera] had the puck and the D was stepping up so I just tried to go for a rush and he made a good pass."
Added Ovechkin: "If we have a chance to go on the attack, we make a simple play and you see when Fehr scored the second goal – it was tic-tac-toe from [Chimera]. [Fehr] is a pretty good wrist-shot guy."
Fehr supplied the finish, but Washington's third line was great in the final two periods. Boudreau has been shuffling his lines plenty this season, particularly moving his centers about trying to find the right fit for rookies Johansson and Mathieu Perreault.
Given the elements and the condition of the ice, conventional wisdom might say Chimera and Johansson – maybe the two fastest skaters on the team – would have one of their greatest attributes negated. As it turned out, they might have been even better once the rain started coming down.
"I think it is the other way around," Chimera said. "Me and Marcus are good skaters and it is harder work on ice like that. If you are a good skater it helps out a lot because you don't have to work as hard if you are an efficient skater. I think it is has the reverse effect – I think bad skaters have an even tougher time skating. We had some good jump all night. It was a fun game."