Capitals Locker Room: Big victory on a big stage offers momentum
The Capitals' Eric Fehr scores his second goal of the Winter Classic in the third period agaist the Penguins at Heinz Field last night.
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Alex Ovechkin threw his hands into the air as the clock ticked toward zero, a show of emotion from Washington's captain. No, this wasn't a playoff game, but it clearly meant something to the team that has struggled against the Penguins in big games over the years.
The Capitals still need to exorcise some playoff demons, but their 3-1 victory against the Penguins in the Winter Classic felt about as good as a win in January could at this time of the year.
The Capitals have had their share of success against the Penguins in the regular season in recent years. They are 6-0-1 in their past seven visits to Pittsburgh and are 8-0-2 in their past 10 games against the Penguins.
More important for the Capitals, with the victory, they wake up this morning tied with Tampa Bay atop the Southeast Division and are within two points of the Penguins for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
On a night when Ovechkin and Alexander Semin, the Capitals' top two scorers, were kept off the scoresheet, a role player pointed the way to victory.
Right winter Eric Fehr, who had five goals in the first 35 games, scored twice. He notched the go-ahead goal in the second period and the insurance goal in the third.
"I was definitely happy I could score, that's for sure," Fehr said. "I felt good. The first one felt unbelievable. But we had a good lead going in the third there. We just wanted to play defense. Fortunately, I was able to get the second one. But we weren't really trying to go for offense at that point."
In his second full season in the NHL last year, Fehr scored 21 goals for the Capitals and looked as though he were going to be an offensive force this season. But he has struggled to recapture his goal scoring touch and was a minus-2 entering the game Saturday night.
"He probably hasn't been doing as well as he would like," said Capitals defenseman John Carlson, one of Fehr's close friends on the team. "But he's at practice every day working. Eventually, it will break. Against Montreal, I thought he had his best game. He certainly topped that."
Carlson believes Fehr's performance against the Penguins can jump-start the second half of his season. The Capitals have been searching for more secondary scoring, and Fehr is one of the prime candidates on the roster to provide that.
"I think that's what everyone is looking for," Carlson said. "You get that one breakout game and you keep moving forward. It gives you that confidence. Hopefully, this does that for him. He really deserves it. He's capable of being a great player in this league."
While Fehr scored the final two goals of the game for the Capitals, Mike Knuble tied the score at 1-1 in the second period after Evgeni Malkin gave the Penguins the lead on a breakaway goal.
Knuble is in his 15th season in the NHL and has played more games against the Penguins than any other team. His power play goal was the 29th of his career against the Penguins, 11 more than he has against any other team.
Pretty plays were not to be had on this night as the rain made the ice choppy and slow. Knuble's goal was a dirty goal in front of the net that he poked between the pads of Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
Fehr's first goal came after Fleury misplayed the puck behind his net. Fehr took a pass from Marcus Johansson and banged it into the vacated net.
Fehr was able to show off his goal-scoring touch on his second, going up high over Fleury on a breakaway midway through the final period.
"Both teams were just trying to keep it simple rather than stick handle up high," Carlson said. "We didn't turn the puck over and give them odd-man rushes."
Carlson said the rainy conditions later in the game played in the Capitals' favor because they had the lead.
"I think that helped us when the ice got a little more filled with puddles," he said. "It was tougher for them to make plays they can make."
First Published January 2, 2011 2:38 am