Ever one for hockey's sometimes baffling secrecy, Eric Fehr didn't even want to reveal the poorly kept secret Thursday morning that he'll be back in the Washington Capitals' lineup against the New York Islanders.
But Fehr is set to make his return from a four-game absence on the same night Martin Erat will make his Caps debut following a trade from the Nashville Predators.
"[Fehr] was playing very good for us," coach Adam Oates said. "Shame to lose him. Injuries are a part of the game. We don't want to lose anybody. But it's nice to be able to inject two guys into the lineup."
Fehr's career was dogged by shoulder injuries until this season, when he showed he could stay healthy while playing in Finland. He signed a one-year, $600,000 contract with the Caps and then recorded six goals and six assists in 29 games before suffering an upper-body injury that Oates said was not a shoulder problem.
Fehr was injured March 24 at the New York Rangers when he was spun to the ice by defenseman Ryan McDonagh. Oates didn't give a timetable on Fehr's return as recently as Wednesday.
But the 27-year-old right wing skated with teammates Wednesday and Thursday looked ready.
"I feel good right now," Fehr said. "A lot better than last week."
Fehr said it was easier watching the Caps because they were winning without him.
"Obviously the team's playing really well right now," he said. "We're playing some pretty exciting hockey right now. I think we're getting back to our offensive ways, and I definitely want to be a part of it."
Fehr is set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. A year ago the Jets did not tender him a qualifying offer after he had two goals and an assist during an injury-plagued season in Winnipeg.
Part of getting a new deal, whether it's with the Caps or another NHL team, hinges on Fehr's ability to stay healthy, because he has shown an ability to produce when he's on the ice.
Chimera sits for Erat
To make room for Erat and Fehr, left wing Jason Chimera will be a healthy scratch Thursday night. It will be the first time Chimera is a healthy scratch since Bruce Boudreau sat him March 29, 2011.
"Martin's a left-shot player. I think our top two lines have been going good," Oates said. "And he's the odd man out right now."
Chimera, 33, has one goal and eight assists in 36 games. His goal came March 17 against the Buffalo Sabres.
Aaron Volpatti and Wojtek Wolski are the other healthy-scratch forwards, but each player has been accustomed to that role lately. Adding Erat without subtracting another player meant someone used to playing would be sitting out.
"That's very difficult for the player that sits," forward Brooks Laich said. "But that's where hockey has always been and always will be a team sport. Maybe it's your time this time, maybe your time will come some other time, but you support the guys that play."
Having 15 forwards on the active roster could serve as some type of motivation.
"Nobody likes to be sat out. That's a fact," Oates said. "But also it can make you take a step back and look at the game. And sometimes you need to do that to re-evaluate yourself and to re-evaluate where you belong."
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