- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 7, 2016

Eric Fehr was recovering from surgery on one of his elbows on Oct. 28, the first time the Pittsburgh Penguins played the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center. He was working his way back from an unspecified right leg injury during the second meeting, held on March 1.

Thus, as Fehr removed his right shin guard and looked around the visitor’s dressing room on Thursday morning, his mind reached back four years for memories of the last time he prepared for a game there.

“First time since Winnipeg,” he said.

With only two games remaining in the regular season, Fehr will play against his former team for the first time on Thursday night, suiting up for the Penguins to play the Capitals.

Pittsburgh enters the game as one of the hottest teams in the league — winners of 13 of their last 14 games, including a seven-game winning streak — and can sew up the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference with a victory.

Fehr spent nine of his first 10 seasons with the Capitals, with 2011-12, one injury-plagued year with the Winnipeg Jets, serving as the exception. A dynamic offensive player in juniors and the minor leagues, Fehr scored a career-high 21 goals in 2009-10, then reinvented himself as a center in 2013-14, holding a steady role on the third line last season.

The elbow injury, which he sustained in Game 3 of the first-round series against the New York Islanders, required surgery in early June. By that point, Washington had moved on, and he landed with the Penguins, who signed him to a three-year, $6 million deal in late July.

By the time Fehr returned on Oct. 31, the Penguins seemed to have weathered a tumultuous start and were in the midst of a six-game winning streak. Still, unrest ensued, and in early December they fired coach Mike Johnson even though the team was 15-10-3.

He missed the first game against the Capitals, during which his former team played a highlight video that he appreciated. The second game was in the midst of what ended up being a 17-game, month-long stretch after getting hurt on Feb. 2. He did play against Washington in the Penguins‘ home games on Dec. 14 and March 20.

“Definitely an interesting start,” Fehr said. “The year hasn’t necessarily gone the way I hoped, numbers-wise, but you know, I’m feeling a lot more confident with where I fit on the team and carved out a spot on the penalty kill, which has been big for us, so you know, finding different ways to try to make a difference.”

Fehr has averaged 2:26 a game on the penalty kill this season, second to only Matt Cullen among forwards. Of his eight goals this season, he has scored four of them short-handed, and on Nov. 4 he became the first player in NHL history to score a shorthanded goal in his first two games with a team.

“Fehrsie’s been invaluable for us,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He’s a guy that we rely on to kill penalties. We can play him at center. We can play him on the wing. We can play him on a checking line and move him up and down our lineup … and he’s one of those guys that we rely on to play a lot of different roles depending on who’s in our lineup in any given night.”

Fehr’s return on March 11 coincided with the loss of center Evgeni Malkin, who remains out because of an unspecified upper-body injury. It has also coincided with the Penguins‘ recent surge, which has made being on the ice that much more enjoyable.

“Still would love to contribute offensively like I have in the past,” Fehr said, “but you know, right now, we have scoring coming from all the different angles, and you don’t really need that as much right now.”

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