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Eric Fehr, Puck Thief

Last Tuesday, as the Caps played host to the Los Angeles Kings, Eric Fehr picked up his 16th goal of the season with a beautiful backhand past Jonathan Quick:

It’s a pretty nice goal in and of itself, but what’s perhaps more notable about this goal is the work that immediately precedes it. Fehr is able to break in alone because of some good, strong pressure by him and by linemate Joel Ward at the blue line, a forechecking style which is becoming something of a trademark for the Caps’ “third” line in general – and of Fehr in particular.

Barry Trotz’s system puts a lot of emphasis on an aggressive forecheck, employing that old chestnut of taking away time and space; it’s a style that is perfectly suited to guys like Ward and Brooks Laich, to be sure. But Eric Fehr has really taken this system and run with it the way few others have, and has become adept at using this offensive-zone pressure to force turnovers and create scoring chances.

His tally against the Kings was a result of exactly that type of play, as was this goal against the Hurricanes back in December:

It starts innocently enough, as ‘Canes forward Jiri Tlusty moves the puck from the boards to Riley Nash at center ice. Nash collects the puck, settles it down, and then pulls his stick off of it for just the briefest of moments… but as brief as it is, it’s long enough for a lurking Fehr to simply poke the puck away.

Danger, Will Robinson.

This should be a pretty routine clear for the Hurricanes – but because Fehr is still attacking and staying close to the puck-carrier, all he has to do is reach out and poke the puck free, giving him an unobstructed (minus the hooking and holding from behind) path to the net. And once he gets there, the hands take over.

That wasn’t the first time this season that he’d victimized the ‘Canes with a goal off of a turnover, either. Go back a month and check out what he did to them in November:

The result is the same, but the play that leads up to it isn’t – this time Fehr has a bit of help on the forecheck, with Jason Chimera using his speed to force a pass up the boards to a waiting Eric Staal. The pass is a soft one, and Staal doesn’t seem to be all that interested in hustling for it, clearly unaware (or unconcerned) with the fact that Fehr has been in hot pursuit of the puck since it left his zone.

It’s really a tale of two Erics: one moving his feet, one standing still. Add in another slick move to get around Khudobin, and a bit of luck courtesy of Brett Bellemore’s toe, and it’s in the back of the net.

Not all of these puck thefts result in goals, of course, but they still create scoring chances like this one against the Flyers

…or this one against Florida…

…or this shorthanded beauty against the Penguins:

So far this season Fehr has racked up 36 takeaways, second on the team behind Nicklas Backstrom and good enough to crack the League’s top-40 in that department (although takeaway stats are notoriously inaccurate). More importantly, though, he’s established himself as a constant threat at both even strength and on the penalty kill, forcing opponents to keep their heads on a swivel when he’s on the ice. It’s added value for a guy already on pace for a career season… and, it’s worth noting, one who will be an unrestricted free agent come July 1.

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