TAMPA, Fla. — Eric Fehr looked like a man with something to prove.
After a bumpy ride during his first four full NHL seasons, the big forward was a healthy scratch for the Washington Capitals, then a fourth-liner. When given the opportunity with more minutes and an increased role, Fehr took advantage, scoring three goals in the past three games, including two in Thursday night's victory at the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"Fehrsie's been able to score goals in this league before," right wing Troy Brouwer said. "He's had a little bit of a tough ride in the last few years and it's good to see him being able to bounce back and playing really good hockey right now."
Fehr, 27, scored goals in back-to-back games for the first time since October 2011. He scored two goals in a game for the first time since March 9, 2011 and just the third time in his NHL career. Of course the other time was the 2011 Winter Classic, one of Fehr's finest moments during his first stint with the Caps that was marred by shoulder injuries.
After being traded to the Winnipeg Jets in a summer of 2011 salary dump, Fehr couldn't stay healthy and didn't receive a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent. It took a fine showing for HPK Hameenlinna in Finland's SM-Liiga to show Caps general manager George McPhee enough to sign him to a one-year, $600,000 contract.
The difference in Fehr 2.0 from the first time around?
"I'm healthier now than I have been in the past," he said. "I had a good summer of rehab and my trip over to Finland, I think, helped me regain a little bit of confidence and I learned how to play with the puck a bit more and make plays instead of just dumping it in and cycling."
But Fehr has seemingly always possessed a natural scoring ability. He was twice a 50-goal scorer in junior for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League before the Caps took him 18th in the 2003 draft.
Flashes of that offensive prowess were on display when Fehr played for the Hershey Bears of the American Hockey League. His slap-shot goal on the rush Thursday night might have even looked a little like a Game 7-winner as part of the 2006 Calder Cup run.
"You know Fehrsie, he's a sniper," teammate and friend Jay Beagle said. "It's awesome to see the way he's playing. He's been a huge help to the team and it's been a big part of our wins."
As for the goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Beagle called it "a freakin' rocket."
Brouwer said that while the Caps "haven't exactly had our primary scoring as hot as it wants to be," Fehr has provided some very necessary secondary scoring.
"I definitely want to help contribute," Fehr said. "I wasn't happy with the way my season went at all last year and really wanted to turn it around."
He's off to a good start, even if it took three games as a healthy scratch and eight games as a fourth-liner when Fehr hardly registered as a factor. Putting Fehr on left wing of the third ling alongside center Mathieu Perreault and right wing Joel Ward looks like a brilliant decision by coach Adam Oates.
"He looks like he's got really good jump," Oates said. "It's very noticeable out there; he's got a good stick. He's played better and better every game and obviously he got rewarded [Thursday night], the whole line. That line's been a good line for us the last couple weeks. I'm glad they're getting rewarded."
Fehr, Perreault and Ward aren't expected to be the most potent offensive line. But the trio has been good.
"[Fehr's] got a good shot, he knows how to score," Ward said. "He's been around, which is good to have: a guy with some experience that can finish. He had a couple of nice plays, both top-shelf goals. That's always beneficial for our line if we can kind of contribute offensively."
There's just something about playing with Perreault, another guy with something to prove after a long stretch as a healthy scratch, that brings out the best in Fehr. The Winkler, Manitoba, native said he typically plays well with pass-first, left-handed centermen.
"He's been a shooter, he's scored some goals in this league before and me and him really have chemistry with Wardo," Perreault said. "Even in Hershey [and] when I got called up, I played with Fehrsie and it seems to click."
It's clicking right now for Fehr, who's riding a goal-scoring streak into Sunday's game at the New York Rangers. But forgive a guy who has endured three shoulder surgeries and plenty more ups and downs for not getting too high about a few goals.
"It's only been two games," Fehr said. "I'm not going to say it's consistent right now. But hopefully it's a sign of things to come."
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