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Penguins notebook: Fehr steps up screen time with solid play

| Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, 1:24 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
Eric Fehr potentially could center a line with Evgeni Malkin in Game 3 against the Rangers.
Chaz Palla | Trib Total Media
The Penguins' Beau Bennett skates of the ice after a hit by the Capitals' T.J. Oshie Monday, Dec. 14, 2015 at Consol Energy Center.

He let the habit fade in his final years with Washington, but Penguins center Eric Fehr found satisfaction using his 6-foot-4, 212-pound frame to obstruct goalies' views of action for a good portion of his seven seasons with the Capitals.

“You get in this game mode where you feel like you can just see the puck coming, and you're not really thinking of anything but tipping it and getting body position,” he said.

Twice in the past week, the thrill of a solid screen came back to Fehr, who began to wonder if more time at the net front might bring offensive life to the Penguins' third line.

The combination of Fehr and wingers Tom Kuhnhackl and Bryan Rust provided the Penguins their fourth goal in Saturday's 5-4 win over Vancouver. Rust scored it with an assist from Kuhnhackl and a screen from Fehr. And Fehr also served as the key screen for defenseman Trevor Daley's power-play goal that sparked the team's 4-3 comeback win over Philadelphia on Thursday.

“I'm trying to get back to it a little bit,” Fehr said. “I think as a centerman, I try to be the third guy high or stay a little bit looser so I can get back in the ‘D' zone, but right now, I'm trying to make a conscious effort to get to the net and try to make it a little bit tougher for goalies.”

Fehr, who moved into the third-line center role when Nick Bonino injured his hand Jan. 12, leans on what works for him as a penalty killer, even when he, Kuhnhackl and Rust skate together in five-on-five action. He's not sure when or why he became less of an offensive contributor — his per-60-minute rates for shots and points are well below his career lows — but he considers his line productive in its ability to dictate game pace on the ice.

When Fehr, Kuhnhackl and Rust are together on the ice in five-on-five situations, the Penguins average 42.15 shot attempts per 60 minutes, and they allow 40.69. According to puckalytics.com, both rates sit far below the rates for the team overall — 56.6 and 53.5, respectively.

Injury updates

Winger Beau Bennett won't play against the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night after aggravating an upper-body injury, and the status of his availability might remain unclear until after the All-Star break, coach Mike Sullivan said after practice Monday.

Bennett returned to the lineup Saturday against Vancouver after missing the previous 17 games but accumulated just eight minutes of ice time.

In the second period, immediately after delivering a hit in the offensive zone, he went to the locker room for medical attention but returned minutes later to finish the game.

Winger Chris Kunitz and defenseman Kris Letang missed Monday's practice for “maintenance days,” said Sullivan, who described Kunitz (lower body) as a game-time decision.

Kunitz was a late scratch after warm-ups Saturday.

In the past week, Letang (upper body) has sat out practices but appeared in games.

“Kris is going to play as long as he's healthy to play,” Sullivan said. “It's our job to try to manage the bumps and bruises in such a way that we can get him through it.”

Farnham's new trick

Numerous Penguins fans developed a fondness for winger Bobby Farnham, the former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton winger who had 392 penalty minutes in two seasons with the Baby Pens and 29 penalty minutes in 14 games with the NHL club.

Farnham, claimed off waivers by New Jersey in October, doubts fans at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday will find his style as amusing when he's using it against the Penguins.

“I bet they turn on you pretty quick, yeah,” he said. “They were a loyal, great fanbase, so we'll see.”

He returns to the arena as more than a mere goon, though. His penalty minutes still are on the high side, but he has seven goals in 25 games with the Devils.

Jonathan Bombulie contributed. Bill West is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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