- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 5, 2015

It didn’t matter to Eric Fehr that only nine other teammates joined him on the ice for practice Tuesday morning. He was just happy to be back.

The center took part in the Washington Capitals‘ optional practice, marking the first time he’s skated with teammates since sustaining an unspecified injury in Game 3 of his team’s first-round victory over the New York Islanders on April 19.

“It feels unbelievable to be on the ice with them again,” Fehr said. “That’s the toughest part of hockey is not being around the guys, and one of the big reasons why I wanted to go on the trip this last week — just be around the guys, be a part of it all, and stay involved. I want to be a big piece to this team being successful, and I just want to be around the guys.”

Fehr, who traveled for the Capitals‘ first two games of their series against the New York Rangers at the end of last week, is inching closer to a return, though coach Barry Trotz said he would not play in Game 4 on Wednesday.

The exact nature of Fehr’s injury hasn’t been disclosed, but Fehr, who has a history of shoulder issues, took a check from Islanders right wing Kyle Okposo at 3:11 of the first period in that game, with his right shoulder being driven directly into the glass.

He had been skating under the supervision of strength and conditioning coach Mark Nemish for the better part of the past week, frequently after his teammates left the ice when practice had ended.

Fehr again declined to address the specifics of the injury when asked on Tuesday, noting only that he feels rested and is starting to regain his strength. As for when he’d be able to increase his workload in practice, or when he’d be able to play in a game, Fehr wouldn’t share.

“I don’t have any idea about any of those things,” he said.

With Fehr out of the lineup, Jay Beagle has moved from third-line right wing to third-line center, and he has responded by winning 67.5 percent of his faceoffs during the postseason — including 10 of 12 in the 1-0 victory over the Rangers on Monday, in which he scored the only goal.

Trotz said the productivity of his players with Fehr out of the lineup — the Capitals have won five of seven playoff games without him — could make it tough to put him back on the ice when he is healthy enough to return.

“He missed some time, and guys are playing well,” Trotz said. “That’s the tough part of playoffs — usually, the players make the decisions for you. If they’re all playing pretty well, that’s when it’s tough on a coach. You have to make a decision at the right time, but if a player’s not playing well, there’s no need to change.”

Fehr, meanwhile, said the urgency to rush back to play in a game has been lessened by his team’s success. Sitting out is easier for him to stomach if the team is playing well.

“You don’t want to be a liability on the ice,” Fehr said. “I think that’s the most important thing. Your teammates are working hard. They’re doing a good job, so it’s a lot easier to watch when they’re out there winning games.”

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