2013 Stanley Cup playoffs: Eric Fehr growing as two-way threat for Capitals

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NEW YORK — Eric Fehr made his hockey career out of scoring goals, more so than lying down to put his body in front of pucks. But there he was three minutes into overtime Saturday blocking Derick Brassard’s shot as part of a successful Washington Capitals penalty kill.

It was nothing new for Fehr, whose addition to the penalty kill earlier this season helped the unit and the 27-year-old right wing improve his all-around game.

“Anytime you’re playing more minutes, it helps you play better,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “He’s the type of player that hasn’t really gotten that opportunity to play on the PK, so now that he has, he’s really working at it to make sure he’s doing the right things. It’s been great to see. He’s been a huge two-way threat for us.”

Fehr isn’t the Caps’ best penalty-killing forward; he’s one of eight Adam Oates is able to rotate through. But his presence makes a difference short-handed.

“He’s got that long reach on him,” right wing Troy Brouwer said. “It makes it seem like he’s applying pressure when maybe he’s not. Guys may get a little nervous around him. Plus, he’s been playing desperate this year. He’s been good in our D-zone, defensively responsible, and that’s why Oates has confidence in putting him out on the PK.”

Oates initially put Fehr into the penalty-killing and four-on-four mix to get him more minutes early in the season when there was no room on the power play. Fehr started the season as a healthy scratch and was excited about the chance for more ice time.

“It’s something that guys really pride themselves on,” he said. “You can make a living on the penalty kill if you do it the right way. It’s a bit of a compliment. You want to be out there when there’s a pressure situation, and I’ve really enjoyed it so far.”

During the regular season, Fehr averaged 43 seconds a game short-handed. Through the first two games of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the New York Rangers, he averaged 1:47.

That’s a testament to Fehr’s defensive growth.

“His skill set: He’s a big guy, he can block shots, his reach is excellent,” Oates said. “His decisions: He’s a smart guy out there. He can clear the puck. He’s another right shot that gives one more guy out there.”

The Caps can rotate through four different forward combinations on the penalty kill. That includes the likes of Brouwer, Nicklas Backstrom and Martin Erat, offensively inclined players with defensive smarts.

Fehr has fit in well there for a handful of reasons.

“I think he understands what power plays try to do to be effective,” forward Matt Hendricks said. “Let’s not kid ourselves: He’s a great skater. When you skate well, usually you can penalty kill. I think that’s one of his biggest attributes when it comes to killing.”

Fehr pointed to his experience on the power play as the reason he has been so good at killing penalties.

“I really like to pride myself on reading the play,” he said. “Being on the other side on the power play, I like to think I know what they’re trying to do and I think that helps you read the situations a little bit better.”

Right wing Joel Ward complimented Fehr’s hockey awareness while also saying his teammate’s long stick played a role in his penalty-killing prowess. Alzner said Fehr has “probably the same wingspan” as 6-foot-9 Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara.

“He can reach for days, it seems,” Alzner said. “I think sometimes people don’t really expect that and he can get in the lane really well.”

Fehr uses his athleticism at 6 feet 4 inches and 212 pounds to his advantage, but it’s his instincts that have made him a crucial part of the Caps’ kill.

“It’s just trying to slow down and not be too aggressive when they’re passing the puck around and really picking your spots to jump them,” Fehr said. “That’s the hardest part.”

It hasn’t looked hard, as Fehr embraced more of a two-way game.

“It’s something that every team needs and you want to be a part of it,” he said. “You want to be a part of the team wins, and this is one of the big parts.”

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