Versatile Penguins forward Eric Fehr still adjusting to fourth-line role
January 12, 2016 12:00 AM
Penguins right wing Eric Fehr.
By Jenn Menendez / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
On the fourth line for the bulk of this season, Penguins winger Eric Fehr’s average ice time is down roughly two minutes per game from the past two seasons with the Washington Capitals.
That means his scoring chances are down, too, which has, in turn, led to a drop in goal-production.
Fehr’s role is no less critical to the Penguins, though, said coach Mike Sullivan. He places a premium on the defensive responsibilities of his fourth line, all of whom also are key penalty-killers on a streak of 25 consecutive kills dating to Dec. 19 against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Penguins’ opponent tonight.
“I think he’s fine. I’ve been reading a lot about that and listening to a lot about that with Eric being on the fourth line. When you look at the makeup of our team and how it’s built, there’s not a big difference in the back-six forwards,” Sullivan said. “He’s playing critical minutes. That’s the way I look at it.”
Fehr’s line isn’t put in as many offensive situations and gets defensive draws far more often than offensive draws. Any offense created is the result of dogged, hard work.
When the Penguins’ top line isn’t matched against an equally skilled line, the fourth line gets that job. Recently, it has been made up of Sergei Plotnikov or Kevin Porter at left wing, center Matt Cullen and Fehr at right wing.
“If some of our top lines don’t play against an opponent’s top line, [Cullen’s] line gets them. And that line has done a nice job for the most part,” Sullivan said. “I think it’s a vitally important role on this team. We’ve been reluctant to change that line because of the importance of their role and what they’ve done in helping us win.”
That doesn’t mean the offensive instincts are gone. Fehr, who scored 19 goals last year for the Capitals, said he still craves those chances to bury the puck. His biggest adjustment this season has been getting used to the fewer scoring chances per game and the pressure to cash in when they happen.
“You might not be getting the two or three scoring chances a game anymore. You might be getting just the one, so you’ve got to use that one,” Fehr said.
He has scored five goals in 31 games, an abbreviated season after returning from offseason surgery.
“I still want to score every single game,” Fehr said. “If you’re going to try and score, you’re going to have to make it a 200-foot goal. We try to really focus on our clean breakouts, making sure we get out of our zone, making sure we don’t spend too much time there.”
None of it is lost on Sullivan.
“His contribution has been significant to helping us win,” Sullivan said. “ He’s been a big component on the penalty-kill. We’ve used his line with Cullen in the middle to play against a lot of teams’ top lines. I don’t think it’s a typical fourth line-type role when people talk about a fourth line. So I think the way we’ve utilized that line has been really important to helping us win.”
Noteworthy: The Penguins have killed 25 consecutive opposing power plays. … Penguins C Sidney Crosby has 38 points (8 goals, 30 assists) in 31 career games against the Hurricanes … Hurricanes C Eric Staal has 44 points (18 goals, 26 assists) in 43 career games against the Penguins … Hurricanes LW Phil Di Giuseppe (concussion) and C Victor Rask (undisclosed) are day to day with injuries. … Hurricanes LW Nathan Gerbe (ankle) and D James Wisniewski (knee) are on injured reserve.
Did you know? LW Tom Kuhnhackl is the sixth German-born player in Penguins history. Sven Butenschon, Christian Ehrhoff, Randy Gilhen, Marcel Goc and Thomas Greiss are the others.
Jenn Menendez: email@example.com and Twitter @JennMenendez.
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