Fehr's void, however long, will be felt on Penguins' penalty-kill
February 4, 2016 12:00 AM
The expected absence of Eric Fehr will challenge the Penguins on the penalty-kill.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Penguins have yet to announce a diagnosis for injured forward Eric Fehr.
They’ve given no indication of a prognosis for him, either.
Still, at least one thing seems certain: If Fehr, who was injured midway through the Penguins’ 6-5 victory against Ottawa Tuesday night, is out for an extended period, his absence won’t go unnoticed.
Not only because coach Mike Sullivan has no qualms about playing Fehr against opponents’ top lines, but also because of his prominent role as a penalty-killer.
Fehr is averaging 2 minutes, 29 seconds of short-handed work per game, second among Penguins forwards to Matt Cullen (2:44). What’s more, his three short-handed goals were tied for second most in the league going into Wednesday’s games.
“He’s been really good for us on the penalty-kill,” Cullen said. “He’s a huge, huge part of what we do. Any games he misses are going to be felt there.”
Fehr was hurt when he absorbed a hit from Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki in the middle of the second period. He subsequently hobbled off the ice and down the runway to the locker room.
Sullivan said after practice Wednesday that Fehr was having additional testing and did not offer a time frame for his return.
The Penguins’ penalty-kill has been strong for most of the season. It was tied with Washington’s for the sixth best in the NHL before Wednesday’s games, with a success rate of 83.8 percent.
If Fehr has a lost-time injury, the Penguins will be without two of their top four penalty-killers; Nick Bonino has missed the past seven games because of a hand injury, and there is no target date for him to return.
The Penguins already lost a core penalty-killer earlier this season when Pascal Dupuis was forced to retire because of concerns about blood clots.
“For sure, we’ll miss the guys who aren’t part of it now,” Cullen said. “But we have guys who are capable, who can skate, who are smart enough hockey players who can fill in.”
Rookie left winger Tom Kuhnhackl is the front-runner to take on Fehr’s short-handed duties if Sullivan decides on a one-for-one exchange, but he said Wednesday that he might split Fehr’s penalty-killing work among several players. Sullivan put Kuhnhackl, Scott Wilson and Bryan Rust on the list of candidates.
“All of these guys have killed penalties for me down in Wilkes-Barre,” he said. “I have a comfort level with all of those guys.
“We have lots of options we can use. For me, it will be a little bit of a feeling-out process.”
Although Fehr has been paired with Carl Hagelin since the latter was acquired from Anaheim last month, Sullivan might do more than simply give Hagelin a new partner. It’s conceivable that he will break up the Cullen-Kevin Porter tandem so that each of his top two penalty-killing pairings would have an experienced faceoff man.
That was the plan when Ottawa got a power play after Fehr was injured, but the Senators pressed the Penguins so hard during the second half of that man-advantage that Sullivan wasn’t able to get a Porter-Kuhnhackl pairing onto the ice, as he had intended.
Regardless of how the Penguins try to fill the void Fehr’s absence would create, it will be hard for his teammates — especially those who kill penalties with him — to ignore that he’s not around when they’re down a man.
“He’s very reliable defensively,” Hagelin said. “A big body, long reach. He’s good on the PK. We’re going to miss him. Someone is going to have to step up.”
Dave Molinari: email@example.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.
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