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Over the Boards: Capitals' Oates gets Fehr on ice

by Dan Rosen

Washington Capitals coach Adam Oates insists he likes forward Eric Fehr, values what he brings to the team and wants to be sure to put him in a position to succeed.

It's for those reasons Fehr has played the past five games as the left wing on the Capitals' second line with Mikhail Grabovski and Troy Brouwer. It's also for those reasons that Oates said he scratched Fehr for nine straight games in November after watching him contribute three assists in two games as the replacement for an injured Alex Ovechkin on the Capitals' first line.


What are the IIHF rules for naming an injured player to the Olympic roster, and can he be replaced if he hasn't recovered in time for the Olympics? -- @tumpover

From what I have been told, a team can name any injured player to the original roster and has up until the night before the Olympic tournament begins to replace him. The rosters are submitted at what is called the Directorate Meeting, which takes place the night before the competition begins, which in Sochi would be Feb. 11. In 2010, Canada brought Jeff Carter to Vancouver for the Olympics because there was a question about whether Ryan Getzlaf was healthy. Getzlaf was healthy enough to play, so Canada sent Carter home. I imagine since the upcoming Olympics are in Sochi, a decision on a player's availability will be made prior to the players' arrival in Russia.

What prospects in the World Juniors could make the biggest impact at the NHL level? -- @flame_awesome

This is a loaded question because there are a number of prospects expected to play in the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship that likely will make a major impact at the NHL level in the coming years.

The obvious names that come to mind from Canada alone, because Canada all but named its roster Monday (25 players for 22 spots), are Jonathan Drouin (Tampa Bay Lightning), Matthew Dumba (Minnesota Wild), Bo Horvat (Vancouver Canucks), Griffin Reinhart (New York Islanders) and Kerby Rychel (Columbus Blue Jackets). That's only five. I could include several more. Two to definitely keep in mind are Connor McDavid and Aaron Ekblad. You'll hear plenty about those guys soon. McDavid is getting the Sidney Crosby treatment.

The best eligible players on the United States side are in the NHL (Seth Jones, Alex Galchenyuk and Jacob Trouba) and won't be playing in the World Juniors, but there are more who have been drafted high already, such as Brady Skjei (New York Rangers) and Ryan Hartman (Chicago Blackhawks). Thatcher Demko and Sonny Milano, two prospects eligible for the 2014 NHL Draft, are among the others to watch.

Russia has Lightning goalie prospect Andrey Vasilevskiy and Buffalo Sabres blue-line prospect Nikita Zadorov. Sweden has William Nylander, who is the son of former NHL player Michael Nylander, and Jakub Vrana. Each received an A grade from Central Scouting in November, identifying them first-round candidates among 2014 draft-eligible players.

What do you think about the goalie situation in New Jersey and who should be getting the majority of starts? -- @ConiglioHockey

The goalie situation with the New Jersey Devils is a coach's dream. Whether it's Martin Brodeur or Cory Schneider, the Devils always have a chance to win because they can always rely on their goaltending.

This is not a problem. This is not a controversy. This is the way the goaltending situation was supposed to play out for the Devils this season, especially considering they have a League-high 22 back-to-back sets. They need upgrades in other areas, but their goaltending is among the best in the NHL; Kings coach Darryl Sutter said it was the best.

Brodeur was hot for a while, and he got the majority of the starts, but it's beginning to even out now as Schneider will start for the third time in four games Wednesday against the Montreal Canadiens. Ride him if he's hot, but remember, New Jersey has four back-to-backs this month. Keeping both goalies fresh is the way to go. They can win with either in net.

The first part of that makes sense on its face. The second part requires some explaining.

Why scratch a guy who was producing in a top-line role even if the guy he was replacing returned to the lineup? Why not just keep him in the lineup in either a second- or third-line role? And if you're going to scratch him, why do it for nine consecutive games? Finally, if you scratch him for nine straight games, why put him back in the lineup as a top-six forward?

For Oates, it boils down to depth and proper placement in the lineup.

When Ovechkin came back for the game against the New York Islanders on Nov. 5, Oates had two wings he liked on the second line (Brouwer and Brooks Laich) playing around Marcus Johansson, who belongs in the top six. He didn't want to break up his third line of Grabovski, Jason Chimera and Joel Ward because it was going through a productive stretch.

The only place he felt he had an opening for Fehr was on the fourth line, but Oates doesn't view Fehr as a fourth-liner and says Fehr shouldn’t view himself as one either.

"He said to me, 'Oatesy, I'll play fourth-line right wing,' but I'm like, 'You're not a fourth-line right winger, and I've got a kid [Tom Wilson] who is a fourth-line right winger right now, so no sense in you playing six minutes doing nothing,'" Oates told "Now, a guy doesn't want to hear that, but I don't think that's optimal, and I don't think it helps him. He's a better player playing 15 minutes.

"If he plays fourth-line right wing and he plays five minutes, he's not going to do anything and then everybody is going to think he can't play."

Oates was right in that Fehr didn't want to hear the coach's rationale, not after the way he performed as Ovechkin's replacement.

"I just finished two games on the top line, we scored a couple of goals, and I thought things were going well," Fehr told "I was blindsided when I came into the rink and I wasn't on the board to be playing. That was definitely tough to take."

It was also tough news for Oates to deliver.

"Sometimes, it's not fair -- and for me, too -- to explain it to a guy who plays well that you have to take him out," Oates said. "That's my first time doing that and I don't like it, but unfortunately it's part of the gig."

To his credit, Fehr stayed in shape by diligently working in practice alongside Jay Beagle, who was also a healthy scratch. He also said he learned to understand Oates' reasoning, even if he never liked it.

"I can definitely see his side of it, where he wants guys on the fourth line that are hitting guys and playing a real physical game," Fehr said. "It's not easy to sit on the bench for 20 minutes and then go out there for a shift and try to make plays. It's tough that way. I understand what he's saying. It's just difficult when you're not in the lineup, you're watching your team go out to battle, and there's nothing you can do to help them."

Oates stuck with the same top-nine forwards for the next nine games, with the only adjustment being a swap of Johansson and Martin Erat on the top two lines. It was hard to blame him, considering Washington went 5-1-1 in the first seven games without Fehr.

However, Oates finally made some changes after the Capitals lost back-to-back games against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens. He put Erat in the press box and brought Fehr into the lineup against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Nov. 23.

Fehr played nearly 17 minutes, found chemistry as the left wing alongside Grabovski and Brouwer midway through the game, and finished with five shots on goal in a 2-1 shootout loss. He scored goals in each of the next two games and was still on the second line Tuesday when the Capitals hosted the Carolina Hurricanes.

Erat has since asked to be traded.

"He was never bad," Oates said of Fehr. "He's a good hockey player. He can score goals, and it's so hard to score in this league. He's my go-to guy right shot after a power play. He kills penalties. He plays 4-on-4. The minutes are there. Lots of time, you have to let it evolve as a player. You can't be impatient, but that's tough. That's the coach's job, to try to talk him off a ledge. Two weeks ago, he was staring at me with daggers in his eyes."

Fehr might have some staying power in the lineup, especially if Capitals general manager George McPhee finds a way to honor Erat's trade request.

Laich has missed three straight games with what the coach hopes is a minor groin issue, but provided he can return this coming weekend, Oates might use Laich on the second line and Fehr as the third-line center. The coach said he thinks Laich is better on the wing than he is in the middle, but Fehr has proven to be interchangeable this season, having played all three forward positions.

"He has the confidence in me to go out and help this team," Fehr said of Oates. "Being able to be on the penalty kill in the last 30 seconds when we had just finished tying the game [against the Islanders this past Saturday], that gave me a lot of confidence that he believes in me. I'm playing more 4-on-4 in overtime. I definitely think he's putting me in roles to succeed. I have to continue to show him that I can."

Bruins' Smith impressing with a surprising attribute

Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli made sure to acquire Reilly Smith along with Loui Eriksson in the trade that sent Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars because Smith is a playmaking right wing who had shown ability to play a two-way game.

Chiarelli and the Bruins have been pleasantly surprised to see that the 6-foot, 185-pound Smith has another element to his game that didn't show up as much when they scouted him last season and while he was at Miami University of Ohio.

"With Reilly, it's about having the strength, because he's got the skill and the vision, and in that sense, he has exceeded expectations, because if you've seen him play, his board play is really good," Chiarelli told "He's really sneaky on the boards, and he's strong on the puck. For a guy who was a playmaker and scorer in college, we saw a little bit of that [strength], but he's actually shown quite a lot of that. In the heat of the battle in the playoffs you've gotta do that, and he's shown that he can do that."

Reilly Smith
Right Wing - BOS
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 12 | PTS: 17
SOG: 39 | +/-: 3
Smith was a major point-producer in college, with 102 points in 77 games over his final two seasons. He turned pro last season and had 35 points in 45 games with the Texas Stars of the American Hockey League before chipping in nine points in 37 games in Dallas.

So far this season, he's the Bruins' third leading scorer with 17 points on five goals and 12 assists in 27 games playing regularly on the third line with Chris Kelly and Carl Soderberg. He's averaging nearly 14 minutes per game, including 1:18 of power-play time.

"He makes plays, but he makes plays off the battle too, which is hard to do," Chiarelli said. "Usually when you finish battling, you don't have enough energy or the time to make the play, but he does. He makes those little in-tight touch passes because he's really good at those. We've been getting him to try to shoot more because he's in spots to shoot and he's got a good shot. I just like the way he plays."

Average Rangers see homestand as opportunity

New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault asked and sort of answered an important question following his team's 5-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets at Madison Square Garden on Monday:

"Is this team a .500 hockey club?" Vigneault said in his postgame remarks. "We're certainly playing like one right now."

The Rangers have a chance before the Christmas break to change that with a road game against the League-worst Buffalo Sabres on Thursday followed by a nine-game homestand that starts Saturday against the New Jersey Devils.

Of their next 10 opponents, half currently have more points than the Rangers' 28 and four are currently in a playoff position. This is New York's chance to make up for the season-opening 3-6-0 road trip.

"[After the first nine games] we were like, 'Let's get back to .500,' and we reached that goal," Rangers center Derick Brassard told "But the expectation of our team is to be better than a .500 team. We need to take the next step in the next month. The top teams are getting separation. We're in the race now, but we want to take another step and catch those teams."

To do so, they have to be better than they were Monday, when they got out to an early lead and played well in the first period only to have a lackluster second that bled into a poor third.

"Good teams don't hover around .500 all season," Rick Nash said. "They put winning streaks together, and we can't find that streak right now.

"We've got all the pieces of the puzzle in here; it's just a matter of going out and doing it."

Time is now for Weiss in Detroit

Three weeks ago, when Stephen Weiss was recovering from a groin injury, Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock told that even when Weiss returned, it was going to take him another month to truly become a part of the Red Wings. The point was that Weiss wasn't close to understanding the way the team plays or the expectations that come with playing in Detroit for Babcock and general manager Ken Holland.

Weiss, who had played with the Florida Panthers since breaking into the League in 2001-02, returned to the lineup five games ago, and he hasn't done anything to set himself apart or prove to Babcock and Holland that he's ready to help aid Detroit's run for a 23rd consecutive berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.


Capitals coach Adam Oates on comparing Alex Ovechkin to Brett Hull:

"[Ovechkin] is close to Brett because of his release and being opportunistic, but you've gotta give him credit, too, because he's scoring more dirty goals, more tips, more rebounds in front. He's becoming more and more of a complete player, I feel anyway. I keep saying it, but there's more to his game to evolve. He's also a smart guy. When something happens to him once, you don't have to tell him again. And that's where I kind of also associate him with Brett too. People don't give Brett enough credit for being a very smart guy, because he's always too mouthy, but you don't score more than 700 goals by accident. There's a word called 'longevity' that has to fit into that."

Jets coach Claude Noel on why he scheduled an outdoor practice in Central Park this past weekend:

"We had an opportunity to spend three days in New York, and coming off the game [Friday] in Philadelphia, it was good for us to practice outside because of a team-building thing. The guys enjoyed it. Certainly not often do you get to practice and skate in Central Park. It just brings back some good memories for players, and I think it's a really good thing for team building. It makes the team closer, and you hope a trip like this -- we play six games in 14 days -- helps your group. But it helps your group if you win. If you manage it well, show up and do the right things, it helps you, and so far we've been doing that."

Now, he has a chance to change all that.

Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg will be out of the lineup for a minimum of two weeks with a herniated disc in his back, so Babcock said Weiss will be given the first crack at taking most of Zetterberg's minutes, including power-play time, on a line with Johan Franzen and Gustav Nyquist starting Wednesday against the Philadelphia Flyers (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

Weiss, who has three points in 22 games, had been playing with Daniel Cleary and Mikael Samuelsson. He played a season-low 9:01 on Sunday in a 4-2 win against the Ottawa Senators.

"He should get a chance right now with these guys out, and there you go," Babcock said. "Someone is going to grab hold of it. That's just the way life is. Someone grabs hold of it every time. Why wouldn't it be him? That's what I'd be doing. Why wouldn't you grab hold of your chunk of it and get going? Here it is, grab hold of it."

Babcock, though, will have a short leash with Weiss. If he isn't playing well enough, he'll move someone else to the line with Franzen and Nyquist.

"We'll work this out over time," Babcock said. "We're winning games."

Thorburn makes his minutes count

Chris Thorburn's run as the Jets' second-line left wing may be limited to just one game, but what a game it was for the regular fourth-line grinder.

Admittedly nervous about replacing injured Evander Kane on the second line with Olli Jokinen and Devin Setoguchi on Monday in New York, Thorburn contributed his first two points of the season and played double-digit minutes for the first time since March 8, 2012.

He assisted on Setoguchi's tying goal in the second period and on the first of Jokinen’s two third-period goals – a goal that proved to be the game-winner. Thorburn played 16 shifts totaling 12:10 of ice time.

"I stuck to my game plan, doing what I usually do," Thorburn said. "It's not like I'm all of a sudden going to become a puck-handler, hold onto pucks and not forecheck, not hit. That's where I create energy and feed off myself, that's how I get involved in games. By doing that, it kind of opened room for [Jokinen and Setoguchi], and we had a great night."

Kane might return Thursday when the Jets play at the Florida Panthers. If he can't, Jokinen and Setoguchi wouldn't argue with coach Claude Noel if he puts Thorburn back on their line. They loved playing with him.

"It's easy to play with a guy that you know that when the puck goes to his corner that nine out of 10 times, he's going to be able to win that battle," Jokinen said. "That's what he brought. He probably should have played even more the way he played."

This and that

* Here is Oates' take on why the Capitals won't let Wilson play for Canada in the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship even with the 19-year-old right wing playing only about seven minutes per game on the Washington’s fourth line:

"I told the kid this, and I told his parents, that I view Tom Wilson as a NHL player. He played in the Air Canada Center against the Toronto Maple Leafs the other night. He's had six fights this year. He plays in big buildings against big boys. He is not a junior guy anymore, at least not to me."

* Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec is 6-3-1 with a .935 save percentage and 2.14 goals-against average since he was pulled after allowing four goals on 14 shots in a 5-1 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Nov. 2. Pavelec has given up two or fewer goals in eight of his 10 starts, including the past four. He gave up three or more goals in 10 of his first 13 starts.

* Blues forward Jaden Schwartz has quietly put together his best streak, with points in seven straight games. He has three goals and five assists during the run, giving him six goals and 12 assists overall. Schwartz has 51 shots on goal in 26 games, hardly an astronomical number, but a noteworthy one considering he had 50 shots on goal in 45 games last season.


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