Troy Brouwer wasn’t the star of the Caps’ Monday night 6-5 shootout win against Tampa Bay. That went to his teammate Jason Chimera, who had two third-period goals. In fact, Brouwer couldn’t even claim the title of second or third star of the game—those were awarded to his linemate Marcus Johansson, playing for the first time this season, and Tampa’s Dominic Moore.
But in only his second regular season game with the Capitals, Brouwer is making his presence felt – literally—through solid checks at the expense of the Capitals’ opponents. And while his play may not be headlining a game, he’s caught the attention and admiration of a very important audience: his teammates.
“We were just talking about that tonight on the bench,” Wideman said after Monday’s game when asked about Brouwer’s physical play and how it creates space. “He plays the right way. He’s the guy that finishes every check. [He’s] got lots of skill, lots of speed, and when he goes out there and plays that way, his linemates get a lot more room, and he turns a lot of pucks over [to the Capitals].”
Playing the right way has already helped Brouwer win a Stanley Cup once in his career, and the fact that the guys on the bench are taking note should bode well for the Capitals’ own development. Meanwhile, the potential to free up ice for Johansson and Alexander Semin – Brouwer’s current linemates, who already have one regulation goal apiece this season—should send opposing teams scuttling back to their whiteboards.
In fact, Brouwer’s ability to create space with his checks and keep up with the rhythm of the game makes him a excellent fit for the style of hockey that head coach Bruce Boudreau has established in Washington: a system that relies heavily on tilting the ice, or taking time and space away from your opponent.
One example came Monday when Brouwer was playing on the penalty kill. He managed to make it almost to Tampa’s blue line and delivered a hit that freed the puck and allowed his team to clear it down the ice. Time and space were both taken away.
As of Monday, Brouwer has 13 credited hits in just two regular season games. The hits aren’t necessarily Alex Ovechkin-like catapults into opponents, but they have the right amount of force to get the job done.
“The games where I feel that I’m more effective, I’ve got 5, 6, 7 hits in a game,” Brouwer told NPR’s Gemma Hooley and Chris Nelson after Monday’s win. “It just gets me into the game, gets me into the battles, and it just means that I’m always around the puck. And I feel a lot better when I’m contributing, whether it’s finishing my checks or scoring goals.”
He did both Monday, getting his first regular season goal as a Capital and thereby evening up the score to make it 3-3 in the second period. Jason Chimera’s first goal of the night gave the Capitals some insurance after that, but there would be two more goals by Tampa in regulation before Chimera would tie it up for good with an unassisted goal in the third.
“Chimer just threw it on net. It seems like a lot of those goals were going in. [Dwayne] Roloson seemed a little bit shaky tonight, so we were trying to put pucks in his feet, pucks at bad angles, and just get pucks and bodies in front of the net, and that’s how the game-tier went in,” Brouwer said.
Brouwer ended up being on the ice for two goals for and against his team, though admittedly the two tallies against Washington which Brouwer was on the ice for came from odd angles. Capitals’ play-by-play announcer Joe Beninati described them as being shot from “the coffin corner” of the ice, almost behind the net to Vokoun’s left. In a game that ended 6-5, it’s clear neither team’s goalie was having a Vezina night, although both teams managed to avoid giving up a power play goal despite seven chances for the Capitals and four for Tampa. The Capitals’ Tomas Vokoun, playing his first regular season game with the Capitals, ended up redeeming himself in overtime, where the Capitals had to kill off two penalties, one by Semin for hooking and one for having too many men on the ice.
But, all things considered, Brouwer was happy for Vokoun post-game.
“It’s nice for Vokoun to be able to get a win after that, “ Brouwer said. “A couple goals he probably would like to have back.”
Vokoun was honest after the game about his performance, and committed himself to being better.
And that’s another good trend coming from the Capitals: accountability, but also support.